As Faith in Healthcare has been privileged to point out in multiple venues, every faith tradition embraces an obligation to ensure that our brothers and sisters get the treatment and medicines that they need. It is an obligation that can be traced back to the mandates of our sacred scriptures, from the Koran to the Torah to the New Testament.
But what does that obligation mean in today’s world? How are our faith communities responding to the current crisis in healthcare in the U.S., where nearly two-thirds of Americans defer or skip needed healthcare each year due to cost, triggering the loss of thousands of lives and causing untold suffering? How have our faith communities responded to the building momentum for systemic change, most dramatically demonstrated by the widespread call for a single-payer, Medicare for All healthcare system in the U.S.? Are our institutions following the Proverbs 31:9 call to speak out for justice?
This week, as the most comprehensive and detailed version of Medicare for All legislation is being unveiled in the U.S. Congress, Faith in Healthcare tries to answer those questions. We conducted an informal survey of major U.S. faith groups, exploring which have explicitly endorsed a single-payer, Medicare for All system for the U.S., and which have made a less specific call for universal healthcare.
We are grateful to Indiana University McKinney Law student Jennifer Phillips, Physicians for a National Health Program, and members of American Muslim Health Professionals for providing information to help compile this list. But we expect—and we hope—that the information below is not complete. We consider this to be a Wikipedia-esque project, where accuracy is improved by crowd sourcing. So we invite you to send us, through this link, any additions or corrections you can make to this list. We will continually update this document on our website.
Hopefully, those updates will feature more faith groups joining those who already embrace the growing Medicare for All movement. As we wrote in the January 16th issue of Faith in Healthcare, a Medicare for All system would be a manifestation of our faiths’ shared call for universal care, while also saving public funds and respecting individuals’ autonomy to choose their own care providers. This list shows that many U.S. faith organizations already call for universal healthcare. The Medicare for All system has the popular support and the fiscal and policy specifics to transition universal care from a mission statement aspiration to a lived reality for our struggling neighbors.
Faith Organizations That Endorse Single-Payer/Medicare for All:
United Methodist Church
In 2008, the UMC adopted a “Health Care for All in the United States” Resolution that traces the Methodist tradition on healthcare back to John Wesley offering free medical care to the poor of London. The resolution offers a detailed indictment of the morality of the current U.S. system: “(M)edical decisions are often made with primary consideration for the costs to the (insurance) corporation, not for the optimum health of the patient . . . Competition for premium dollars and concern for high profits have taken priority over necessary care at actual cost. It is evident that private insurance companies are prone to deny claims while continuing to receive premiums, favoring higher profit over the ‘health and wholeness’ of the weakened, the worried, and the sick.”
The remedy, according to the Book of Resolutions: “In a just society, all people are entitled to basic maintenance and health-care services. We reject as contrary to our understanding of the gospel, the notion of differing standards of health care for various segments of the population . . . We call for swift passage of legislation that will entitle all persons within the borders of the United States to the provision of health-care services, the cost of such services to be equitably shared by American taxpayers . . . This concept, known as “single-payer,” would extend health care to all persons in the United States.”
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
In 2008, the Church adopted a recommendation calling for advocacy and education that pursues “the goal of obtaining legislation that enacts single-payer, universal national health insurance as the program that best responds to the moral imperative of the gospel.” In support of the recommendation, the Church stated, “As followers of our Great Physician Jesus, we have a moral imperative to work to assure that everyone has full access to health care . . . (W)e are warned by the prophets not to heal the wounds of God’s people lightly; yet in 2006 the aggregate profits of the health insurance companies in the United States were $68 billion. During that same year more than 15,000 families were forced into bankruptcy because of medical expenses.”
The Union’s resolutions include a “Call for Reform of the Health Care System,” which notes that, in Judaism, “providing health care was not just an obligation for the patient and the doctor, but for the society as well. It is for this reason that health care is listed first by Maimonides on his list of the ten most important communal services that had to be offered by a city to its residents. (Mishneh Torah, Sefer Hamadda IV:23).” The Resolution thus finds a duty to “Advocate (for) a single-payer system as the most likely means of fulfilling the principles articulated in past resolutions on health care reform.”
United Church of Christ
In its General Synod 29 in 2013, the Church adopted a resolution stating, ”Based on our belief that health care is not only a basic human NEED but also a basic human RIGHT and our belief that it is a moral imperative to transform health care so that it is: inclusive, accessible, affordable and accountable . . . calls upon the United Church of Christ in all its settings to act with urgency to . . endorse and support a national health insurance program such as the proposal found in Congressman Conyers’ legislation, H.R. 676, “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All” or a public health option as long as such legislation meets the above criteria. Pursue interfaith and ecumenical cooperation with the goal of immediately obtaining passage of H.R. 676 or such legislation as meets our criteria.”
In its 2008 Action of Immediate Witness, the Church found that “We spend over $2 trillion for health care in the United States, yet 50 million people are still not covered and another 50 million are denied adequate care by their insurance companies . . . (H)ealth care is a human right, yet the World Health Organization ranks the United States 37th in the world in health care outcomes although we spend nearly twice as much as any other country, enough to cover everybody with excellent comprehensive health care.” The Action called “on individual Unitarian Universalists to urge our members of Congress to co-sponsor and pass HR 676, Medicare for All, or its successors, so that our people and our nation can have the excellent and affordable health care system we deserve.”
The Poor People’s Campaign, which includes more than two dozen faith organizations, states among its demands, “We demand the expansion of Medicaid in every state and the protection of Medicare and single-payer universal health care for all.” Regionally, the Oregon Interfaith Health Care Network, the Chico Area Interfaith Council, and POWER Interfaith in Pennsylvania all make unequivocal calls for a single-payer healthcare system as the solution to our U.S. crisis.
Faith Organizations That Endorse Universal Healthcare:
The Catholic Church
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has repeatedly stated that healthcare is a basic human right, saying in 2013 that, “Coverage should be truly universal and should not be denied to those in need because of their condition, age, where they come from or when they arrive here. Providing affordable and accessible health care that clearly reflects these fundamental principles is a public good and moral imperative.”
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The “Caring for Health: Our Shared Endeavor” statement from 20003 holds, “In light of . . . biblical and theological perspectives, we address the health crisis in the United States with its disjointed health care services, its high costs of treatment, and its failure to provide access for many . . (A)s the guarantors of justice and promoters of the general welfare, governments also have the unique role of ensuring equitable access to health care for all.”
African Methodist Episcopal Church
The Seventh Episcopal District Health Commission of the AME Church has stated that it is “led by the vision and a core value of the AME Church that health care is a right not a privilege.”
The Rabbinical Assembly
The international body of Conservative rabbis in 2008 passed a resolution on healthcare in the U.S. that noted that “the United States of America is one of the few industrialized nations of the world that has not found a way to insure that all its citizens have adequate health coverage.” The Resolution concludes that “the Rabbinical Assembly call upon the United States government to establish affordable health care for all Americans.”
American Muslim Health Professionals has signed on to multiple statements in support of universal healthcare. Some scholars of Islam, such as Dr. M.H. Al-Khayat, find in Islam a right to medical care provided by the state, and Dr. Aasim Padela argues there are analogies between Islamic ethical and legal obligations and the notion of a right to healthcare.
The Episcopal Church
The 70th General Convention of the Episcopal church in 1991 passed a Resolution that “decries the inequitable health care delivery system of the United States of America and calls upon the President, the Congress, Governors and other leaders to devise a system of universal access for the people of our country"
American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.
A 1992 American Baptist Churches resolution declares, “we believe that health care should be viewed as a right, not a privilege, and that the basic goal for health care reform should be universal access to comprehensive benefits. Therefore, as American Baptists, we urge the President and Congress to work together expeditiously to enact a major program of health care reform which will extend health care coverage to every person in the United States.”
Interfaith organizations and coalitions
The National Council of Churches in 1991 adopted a resolution to enact a "program to advocate for enactment at the federal level of universal access to comprehensive health care services for all people living in the United States." Faith in Action states that it “believes there are many possible paths toward achieving universal guaranteed coverage for everyone. All of them require a robust government role that ensures a health care culture grounded in medically accurate and a delivery system that responds to the needs of all people.”
Again, we hope that you readers will help us supplement and/or correct this list. And we hope that many faith groups will take the logical, short step beyond endorsing universal care in the abstract to endorsing the proven system that will make it happen. If you want to urge your large or small faith organization to take that step, Faith in Healthcare stands ready to help—contact us!
Faith and Healthcare Notes
- Why Subsidize the Profits of the Health Insurance Middlemen? A New York Times column argues that the U.S. should consider the German model for healthcare that retains a role for insurance companies, but with better regulation and non-profit status. But, as Dr. Adam Gaffney, president of Physicians for a National Health Program points out in The Nation, “We Don’t Need Private Health Insurance.”
- The Key to Cheap Drugs: Pay Research Costs Upfront. Center for Economic Policy Research economist Dean Baker, pointing out how much prescription drug research is already paid for by taxpayers, writes, “Our current system of financing drug research is like paying firefighters when they show up at our burning house with a family inside and then asking what it is worth to save them. It makes zero sense to have a patient suffering from a serious illness, or their family, cough up the money to pay for research that has already been done.”
- Why Are We Seeing so Much Push-Back Against Medicare for All? Again in the New York Times, “Even before Democrats finish drafting bills to create a single-payer health care system, the health care and insurance industries have assembled a small army of lobbyists to kill “Medicare for All.”