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Rev. Thomas, the former General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, is now a professor and administrator here at CTS. Follow his timely, provocative writings on the issues of our day.

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Let’s Fix Obamacare

In a normal world a new government report telling us that in 2014 over 26.4 million Americans had no health coverage for over a year and that almost twice that number had been uninsured for at least part of the year would prompt the question, “How can we fix this terrible problem?” Of course, we don’t live in a normal world. Instead we find ourselves anxiously waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on whether a key element of the Affordable Care Act will be ruled unconstitutional on the basis of what almost everyone recognizes is a simple and unintended error in the drafting of the legislation, a ruling that will almost certainly add several million more Americans to the roll of the uninsured.

If this weren’t the last in a relentless series of efforts to repeal or gut the ACA we might assume the case before the Court is just the mean spirited initiative of a small minority. But it’s not. It is the latest of a long string of attempts by the Republican Party to appeal, gut, and ultimately destroy a government initiative that is changing millions of lives for the better. Even the opportunity to significantly expand Medicaid coverage for poor citizens paid for primarily from the Federal budget was rebuffed by a number of governors and state legislatures. Let’s not try to put a polite face on this. The utter lack of alternatives being offered by naysayers to the ACA can mean only one thing: A vast number of privileged people with significant political influence don’t want their most vulnerable neighbors to have access to good health care.

In this abnormal world success is hardly welcomed. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that from 2013 to 2014 the percentage of uninsured among adults 18-64 decreased from 20.4% to 16.3%. The percentage of uninsured adults aged 19-25 declined from 26.5% to 20%. Not surprisingly, the poor and near-poor benefited significantly from the ACA, as did people of color. The percentage of poor and near-poor Americans without coverage hovered near or above 40% since the 1990s, but dropped by nearly 10% with the advent of the ACA. One would think these remarkable improvements would be celebrated. Not so much.

The report also reveals that some parts of the country are far more interested in giving their residents access to health care than others. States in the northeast and mid-west have significantly lower percentages of uninsured than states in the west. And states in the south fall well below the national average of insured. Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas all had rates of non-insurance significantly higher than the national average. All of these states were among those that refused to expand Medicaid. The correlation of rates of non-insurance, political hue, and racism in these states is no accident. Again, let’s not try to put a polite face on this.

This Sunday many congregations will hear the New Testament story of a little girl restored to life and of a woman suffering from a chronic illness for twelve years healed by Jesus. The centrality of Jesus’ ministry of healing should not be lost on Christians as we await the Supreme Court ruling and ponder the sustained efforts of so many to destroy the ACA. Following in the way of Jesus means helping everyone achieve and sustain good health, not finding ways to place obstacles in their paths as punishment for their poverty, their age, or their race. I do agree with Obamacare’s harsh critics on one thing: the Affordable Care Act does need to be fixed. It doesn’t provide good quality health care to everyone, and that should be our ultimate goal.

John H. Thomas
June 25, 2015

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