MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In a recent CNN online article on its "Belief" blog, a scandal about the Affordable Care Act that is rarely written about was explored:
When people talk about the Affordable Care Act, most focus on the troubled launch of its website. But another complication of the law has received less attention: a “coverage gap” that will leave nearly 5 million poor Americans without health care, according to a Kaiser Health Foundation study.
The coverage gap was created when 25 states refused to accept the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. The people who fall into this gap make too much money to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to qualify for Obamacare subsidies in their state insurance exchanges. If they lived elsewhere, they would probably get insurance. But because they live in a state that refused the new health care law, they likely will remain among the nation’s uninsured poor after Obamacare coverage kicks in come January.
In short, Red States adopting the total GOP assault on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) refused to accept federal funda for expanding Medicaid eligibility, leaving many of their citizens without coverage that they could receive under the act. But the Republican politics of damning anything associated with the ACA as the work of the devil has left many white and minority Americans in healthcare Hell.
Ironically, CNN notes that "most of the people who fall into the coverage gap live in the Bible Belt, a 14-state region in the South stretching from North Carolina to Texas and Florida." Yet, and this is why this GOP political act of condemning individuals, families and children to death or bankruptcy becomes relevant to religion.
The article poses some questions to members of the Christian pulpit in the South and encounters, in general, a wall of silence:
Should Bible Belt pastors say anything publicly about the millions of poor people in their communities stranded by the coverage gap? Is it anti-Christian for state leaders to turn down help for the people Jesus called “the least of these"? Or should pastors say nothing publicly about such issues because they are strictly political?
Who speaks for the poor in the coverage gap?
When these questions were sent to many of the most popular pastors in the Bible Belt, they hit a wall of silence. Virtually no prominent pastor wanted to talk about the uninsured poor in their midst.
Max Lucado, the best-selling Christian author who is a minister at a church in Texas, declined to speak; Charles Stanley, the Southern Baptist pastor in Georgia whose In Touch Ministries reaches millions around the globe, declined to speak; Ed Young Sr. and Ed Young Jr., a father and son in Texas who pastor two of the fastest-growing churches in the nation, also declined to speak.
CNN did find a pastor or two who would go on record:
The Rev. Phil Wages, senior pastor Winterville First Baptist Church in Georgia and a blogger, was one of the few Bible Belt ministers willing to speak on the subject.
He says he won’t preach about the coverage gap created by the state’s rejection of the Medicaid expansion because he has what he calls theological differences with the thrust of the new health care law.
Wages says the Bible teaches that the care of orphans, widows and the sick are given to the church, not to the government. Early Christians were the first to create hospitals, orphanages and hospices.
“I have an issue with the government coming in to get money through me - through taxes - to take care of people, when my argument is that I should be free to give to charities or to my church in order to take care of the sick and destitute,” he says.
The most fundamental rebuttal to the argument of Rev. Wages is then why are so many millions of Americans without healthcare insurance if the churches are taking care of them?
After all, a lot of these people are low-paid working people who don't receive health insurance as part of their jobs:
“These are people who are working people but they haven’t been able to afford health insurance or their employers don’t offer it and they’re stuck,” says Andy Miller, editor of Georgia Health News, a nonprofit news organization that covers health news in the state. “A lot of these folks have chronic health conditions.”
They are people like Shelley “Myra” Mitchell, a single mom with four children who makes $9 an hour working at a Chick-fil-A in Georgia. She makes $18,000 a year – too much for Georgia’s existing Medicaid program, but not enough to qualify for subsidies to sign up for Obamacare’s insurance marketplace in Georgia.
Mitchell’s voice grew edgy with frustration when asked to describe her health needs. She rang up about $20,000 in emergency room bills because she has no health insurance. She can’t afford to get pap smears, go to the dentist or get surgery for a two-year-old hernia. She can’t take medication for her depression and anxiety because she can’t afford it.
She thought she could get help under Obamacare but recently learned she can’t because Georgia did not accept the law’s Medicaid expansion.
“It stinks,” she says. “I’ve been dealing with this hernia for two years now, and I can’t get anyone to help me because I don’t have health insurance. It absolutely stinks.”
Indeed, CNN includes a counter-argument to Rev. Wages:
Wages’ position is impractical and unbiblical, says Ronald Sider, a longtime advocate for the poor and author of “The Scandal of Evangelical Politics."
Churches and charities don’t have enough resources to take care of an estimated 48 million Americans who don’t have health care. The Bible is filled with examples of God's fury over economic oppression of the poor, which Christians should regard as scandalous, he says.
“If you are not sharing God’s concern for the poor, it raises huge questions about whether you are a Christian at all,” he says about pastors who say nothing about the uninsured poor.
Anyone can deem themselves a good person by claiming to be "saved" by Jesus, but Jesus preached saving others from injustice, poverty and hunger.
You can't be "saved," until you understand that Jesus rebelled against those who sought financial gain at the expense of others. Jesus was an advocate of God's compassion toward all, particularly those scorned and left behind.
Meanwhile, millions in the Evangelical and Baptist South will continue to be the victims of a trumped up theology, rigged for those who find comfort in the words of pastors who sell the snake oil of "salvation."