Acton Institute Powerblog

The Parched Wilderness of Socialized Medicine

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Published today on the Web site of the American Enterprise Institute:

Some numbers are highly significant in the Bible. The Israelites, for example, wandered in the desert for 40 years. Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai when he received the Law. Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and nights. These are periods often associated with probation, trial, or even chastisement before the Lord.

Now we have “40 Days for Health Reform,” a massive effort by the Religious Left to muster support during the congressional summer recess for the Obama administration’s nationalization of America’s healthcare system. Liberal Christians and Jews even recruited the president on August 19 for a nationwide call-in, which was said to draw 140,000 listeners. If the ministers, rabbis, and lay “community organizers” in the churches and synagogues succeed, we’ll all be wandering in the parched wilderness of socialized medicine—and for a lot longer than 40 days.

What’s remarkable about this effort is that, as Americans have started to see the details of ObamaCare, they have revolted against the plan in ever-growing numbers. They’ve shown up at town halls and given their nonplussed members of Congress a healthy dressing down. A Rasmussen Reports survey finds that most voters (54 percent) now say they would prefer that Congress simply not pass a healthcare reform package.

Yet the tone-deaf Religious Left has mobilized for the rescue of socialized medicine, one of its most dearly sought objectives. In doing so, its leaders have labeled the honest dissent of ordinary Americans as the fruit of “mob rule,” the result of manipulation by “right wing” talk radio hosts, and evidence of outright misinformation and falsehoods. Not a very Christian thing to do, if you ask me.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who worked so feverishly for Obama’s election, has been leading the charge. He recently wrote that the “storm troopers of political demagoguery, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, have mobilized their followers to disrupt town meetings and defeat comprehensive reform by yelling louder than anybody else.” Like others, Wallis has cast the healthcare debate as a Manichaean battle between the forces of Light and Darkness, prooftexting the president’s and the Democratic congressional reform plan with handy bits of Holy Writ.

In the Washington Post, he cited Leviticus to show that the Bible lays out a “detailed public health policy in regards to contagious rashes and leprosy.” This, Wallis claimed, proves that “the laws governing the Hebrews ensured that participation in their healthcare system was not based upon economic status in the community.” I must have missed that lesson in seminary.

Amazingly, Wallis told Congressional Quarterly that opponents of socialized medicine “really want to shut down democracy and we can’t let that happen. The faith community is literally going to stand in the way of those who want to stop a conversation.” CQ also quoted John Hay Jr., an evangelical leader from Indianapolis, Indiana, who said that “40 Days for Health Reform” is “really an effort to refocus where the central moral issue is—it seems to have been derailed or taken off track by a lot of voices over the past couple of weeks.”

Along with Sojourners, some of the key collaborators on the Religious Left’s rally to the White House and congressional plan include PICO National Network, Faith in Public Life, Faithful America, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has argued that healthcare is a human right that should be available to all. “The Bishops’ Conference believes healthcare reform should be truly universal and it should be genuinely affordable,” wrote Bishop William F. Murphy, the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in a July 17 letter to Congress. Now, Catholics can agree or disagree with the bishops’ advocacy for universal healthcare—that’s a question of prudence not dogma. Tellingly, Bishop Murphy’s letter did not cite Scripture, the catechism, or any papal encyclical. It was argued from a basis in policy and motivated by the bishop’s honest desire for improvement in a system where one in six patients in the United States is cared for in Catholic hospitals.

But note also what the Catholic bishops did. They issued a clear and forceful call for a reformed health policy that “protects and respects the life and dignity of all people from conception until natural death.” That non-negotiable insistence on the respect for life is, by and large, missing from the Religious Left’s campaign. What we get instead are bland assurances, parroted from White House and congressional talking point memos, that “life and dignity” would be forever safe under ObamaCare. I am not persuaded.

What else is missing from the Religious Left’s campaign? Plenty.

There is no acknowledgement that expanding federal spending by $1 trillion or more to reengineer the American healthcare system, and further burdening future generations with groaning debt loads, might be a bad thing. Or would the Religious Left simply have the government declare a Jubilee and disavow these debts when they become totally unmanageable? Is this too somewhere in Leviticus or perhaps Deuteronomy?

There is little or no recognition that other key institutions—the family, the Church, local civic associations—might also have a role to play in shaping reform. Certainly, no recognition for those civic and social groups that have a healthy distrust of an invasive state. Instead, we get the constant demand from the Religious Left that Washington must act. It is a sort of idolatry—the worship of Big Government as the solution to all of our problems.

There is a near total blindness to the fact that nationalized health systems in other countries are deeply troubled, even deadly. Horror stories about these systems are plentiful in the mainstream media. What about the common good? A 2002 report by the Adam Smith Institute noted the following about Britain’s state-run healthcare monopoly:

The NHS has a severe shortage of capacity, directly costing the lives of tens of thousands of patients a year. We have fewer doctors per head of population than any European country apart from Albania. We import nurses and doctors from the world’s poorest countries, and export sick people to some of the richest. More than one million people—one in sixty of the population—are waiting for treatment.

Faith communities should recognize the Religious Left’s “40 Days” campaign for what it is: a politically driven “community organizing” effort that aims to expand a bloated state and make Americans evermore dependent on politicians and bureaucrats, not doctors, for healthcare. As people of faith, we need to speak up against this dishonest affair. After all, it’s our “prophetic” duty.

Rev. Robert Sirico Rev. Robert A. Sirico received his Master of Divinity degree from the Catholic University of America, following undergraduate study at the University of Southern California and the University of London. During his studies and early ministry, he experienced a growing concern over the lack of training religious studies students receive in fundamental economic principles, leaving them poorly equipped to understand and address today's social problems. As a result of these concerns, Fr. Sirico co-founded the Acton Institute with Kris Alan Mauren in 1990. As president of the Acton Institute, Fr. Sirico lectures at colleges, universities, and business organizations throughout the U.S. and abroad. His writings on religious, political, economic, and social matters are published in a variety of journals, including: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the London Financial Times, the Washington Times, the Detroit News, and National Review. Fr. Sirico is often called upon by members of the broadcast media for statements regarding economics, civil rights, and issues of religious concern, and has provided commentary for CNN, ABC, the BBC, NPR, and CBS' 60 Minutes, among others. In April of 1999, Fr. Sirico was awarded an honorary doctorate in Christian Ethics from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and in May of 2001, Universidad Francisco Marroquin awarded him an honorary doctorate in Social Sciences. He is a member of the prestigious Mont Pèlerin Society, the American Academy of Religion, and the Philadelphia Society, and is on the Board of Advisors of the Civic Institute in Prague. Father Sirico also served on the Michigan Civil Rights Commission from 1994 to 1998. He is also currently serving on the pastoral staff of Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Fr. Sirico's pastoral ministry has included a chaplaincy to AIDS patients at the National Institute of Health and the recent founding of a new community, St. Philip Neri House in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


  • Ken

    Father Sirico–

    I wonder how the USCCB squares, if they do at all, the proposed human right to healthcare with the much more plausible (it says here, anyway) human right to be free from involuntary servitude, the foundation stone of every universal healthcare scheme attempted to date.

    The USCCB has a wonderful website — it’s been a great help in my faith formation (as has this site), but on this issue the bishops are, alas, out to lunch.

  • Roger McKinney

    I understand the desire to have less state control over our lives, but I think liberty-loving people are on the wrong side on this debate. We do not have a free market health care system today. The AMA is a qasi-government sponsored entity very much like Freddie and Fannie and it has a choke hold on everything medical. It’s policies have given us an average healthcare system for twice the cost of any other industrial nation.

    The status quo is not acceptable. If it takes giving control of healthcare to the state in order to break the monopoly power of the AMA, then it will be worth it.

    Where have all of the libertarians been for the past two decades while the cost of medical care was bankrupting businesses and households? The major cause of personal bankruptcy is medical bills. Family health care insurance costs companies and employees $14,000 per year; it is the largest expense for the middle class. We need some relief and all the Republicans and libertarians can do is offer bandaids!

    If I have to choose between the status quo and total socialism of healthcare, I’ll take total socialism any day.

  • Roger,
    Nice piece of satire. “Give me Liberty or give me Death”, or how about “Give me Liberty or Give me Socialized Medicine.” I like it.
    Perhaps we can expand the Veterans Administration solution with something like Gift Cards for the Hemlock Society on sale at your local post office. . .a Flat Rate Death Card?

  • Roger McKinney

    I realize my position seems odd for a libertarian, but it’s more pragmatic than ideological. Free market healthcare is not on the table. Breaking the AMA’s monopoly isn’t even a suggestion. However, we might be able to get there in the longer run by having the Feds break the AMA’s power first, then deal with socialized medicine. As I wrote, the status quo is not an option for me and free markets aren’t being offered as an option.

  • mrteachersir

    The bishops are not out to lunch on this one. They clearly state that health care is a basic human right…not health insurance. Big difference.

    Roger is partly right. Currently, the patients are not the customers, the insurance companies are. It is only in the health care field where insurance is used to pay for routine trips to the doctors (imagine using auto insurance to get your oil changed or tires rotated). We have been too focused on treatment rather than prevention (none of my insurance plans have covered preventive physicals…why is that?). We need to break this cycle. Unfortunately, Obamacare actually makes it worse by moving to a single payer system in which there is not even any remote chance of competition between insurance companies.

    If reform is to be made, we need to give power back to the patients themselves. Let them shoulder some of the burden to go to the doctor. Newt Gingrich has proposed some interesting things, but one of his proposals which I like is creating an web-based system in which individuals can research doctors’ rates and provide patient reports on their service.

    I for one, don’t want to go to a state-run hospital like the poor guy in Britain who was told that his appendix was taken out only to be told four weeks later his appendix had burst. Having a means to check on that kind of thing is important!

  • Hunter Baker

    This post simply reminds me yet again why it is that the Acton Institute goes out of its way and spends a lot of money to bring theological students in for training in the dynamics of market economics, limited government, and human freedom. Oh, if only Acton University had been there for Jim Wallis.

  • Ron Bartsch

    Roger, the status quo is just fine for me, and for pretty much everyone I know. We have top notch medical care, all from private sources. I really don’t care to give up my freedom or my health for some left wing fetish.

    My sister is a doctor, and not really political. She has been doing her residency at all sorts of hospitals in this area. Guess which one she hates? The VA. This is single payer and socialized. She says the standards, the work ethic is lacking, and no one is held to account.

    Let’s keep the status quo where 1 out of 5 hospitals in this area are terrible instead of 5 out of 5 (or 1 out of 1?).

    With regard to the AMA, I have no idea what you are talking about.

  • Roger McKinney

    Ron, This article by the physician Dr. Maria Martins will help with understanding the role of the AMA in causing our healthcare crisis: Essentially, the AMA controls the output of US doctors through its control of medical schools. Then it limits competition by restricting foreign doctors from coming into the US and by keep nurses from performing some doctor work.

    The status quo is just fine for people for whom the company pays all of most of their insurance premium. But that is the main reason that medical insurance is too expensive for people who aren’t so lucky. Are you content to let medical care costs to continue rising 12% per year until only the wealthiest in the country can afford it? Medical insurance costs an average of $10,000/year for each employee of a company that pays 70% of the premium. That cost is strangling US manufacturing and sending more jobs overseas every year. Healthcare costs are so high that half of all bankruptcies are due to medical bills.

    And you’re happy with all of that? What about people who don’t have company-paid insurance plans and have to shell out $1,400 per month for family coverage? Shouldn’t those of us who are well off have just a tiny bit of compassion for those who aren’t?