Bishop Hassigner Calls for Justice in Health Care Reform


Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

October 20 was a National Day of Remembrance and Hope, an opportunity to call attention to the more than 45,000 people who die each year because they lack insurance that provides access to needed health care. The faith-based organization, Faithful Reform for Health Care, called for faith communities to respond to this crisis in our nation. 

The right to health care for all is affirmed in our 2008 United Methodist Book of Discipline: (¶162 V):

¶ 162 V) Right to Health Care—Health is a condition of physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. John 10:10b says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted.
Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility—public and private. … Health care is a basic human right.

Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak: “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured.” …We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.

We share a common responsibility to care for one another, to treat each other with dignity and compassion and to include everyone in this care and love. Throughout the Bible, God shows a special concern for the vulnerable and sick and acts to lift them. .”   In Ezekiel 34:4, God reprimands the leaders of Israel for failing to care for the vulnerable and weak: “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured.” Jesus says the nations will be judged by how they treat “the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-45.)

Have we shown that same concern? Instead of providing health care to all, the United States has developed a system that profits off the suffering of others. Health care must be inclusive, providing for all regardless of their circumstances; it must be accessible, affordable and it must be a shared responsibility of all sectors of our society.

Schools, police and fire departments, highways—even our national, state and local parks—are available to all in a community or nation. They are not profit-making endeavors; rather they are the result of people coming together for the common good to educate children, enforce laws, save people’s lives, even protect and maintain the sacred places of beauty in this nation. We do not require people to buy insurance to access to these basic human needs and abandon those who cannot pay. Rather we agree that it is important to contribute to these common benefits through our taxes.

Why then do we deny health care to so many of our neighbors --those who struggle to make ends meet on minimum wage salaries and are rarely offered health insurance; retirees who have to work simply to be able to get insurance; those with pre-existing conditions who cannot, even if they can afford it, get health insurance; those who are laid off and suddenly find themselves jobless?

We are all vulnerable when it comes to health care. Even those families who have traditionally had access to good health insurance, often through an employer, are feeling the impact of increasingly more expensive premiums and restricted care. Even young adults who feel they don’t need health insurance may be devastated by an accident or sudden or severe illness.

President Obama recently said, “We are the only democracy--the only advanced democracy on Earth--the only wealthy nation--that allows such hardship for millions of its people. Health care for all is a matter of justice. Healing should be a reflection of our love and care for all of God’s creatures. When we do not provide health care access to all, we are denying people the potential to live out their God-given life to its fullness.

It is time to come together as a larger community for the common good and care for all God’s children. To do this successfully, we cannot gut health care reform by removing the public option. Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society said, “The public option is the test of our moral commitment to make health insurance, and therefore access to health care, available for everyone.”

As Congress continues to debate health care reform and the public option, I urge you to hold in your prayers all of the vulnerable who depend upon the just action of our representatives and senators—the young, the poor, the ill and the unemployed, among others.

When considering the various health care reform proposals, ask: who is insured, who is still out? Who pays, who profits? Whose voices were heard as legislation was written, whose weren’t heard?

I encourage all of you to contact your senators and representatives in support of just health care reform including a public option. Consider taking additional, constructive actions such as hosting an education night at your church for the community, inviting a civil discourse or holding a prayer vigil for health care justice.

Jesus called us to care for the poor, the sick, the powerless and the vulnerable. Jesus healed as an act of mercy, compassion and grace. He did this not because God required it, but because he recognized that to live fully as the children of God, we must act as God desires

As Christ’s disciples can we do any less?

Bishop Susan W. Hassinger
Albany Episcopal Area