Caring For Health: Our Shared Endeavor: A Review

[1] Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are both corporate and individual consumers and providers of health care in the United States of America. As such, we are bound and committed to care for the health and well-being of ourselves and our neighbor as Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. However, the escalating crisis in the United States health care delivery system today makes it more and more difficult to live out Jesus’ commandment as it relates to our personal health and the health of our neighbor.

[2] The proposed social statement, “Caring for Health: Our Shared Endeavor,” states in a set of principles that we support: “a comprehensive approach to health care as a shared endeavor among individuals, churches, government and the wider society; a vision of health care and healing that includes individual, church, and social responsibilities; a vision of a health care system that is based on understanding health, illness, healing, and health care within a coherent set of services; equitable access for all people to basic health care services and to the benefits of public health efforts; and faithful moral discernment guiding individual participation and public policymaking in health care services.”

[3] “Caring for Health: Our Shared Endeavor” “…requires a fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of health care.” It goes on to note that, “Currently, despite programs to provide at least some care for the poorest among us, the percentage of people with health insurance is lower as income declines.”

[4] In 2001, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the number of uninsured Americans increased after two years of decline to 41.2 million. Between 2000 and 2001 the percentage of non-elderly Americans with workplace health coverage decreased from 67.1% to 65.6%. An Associated Press article dated January 1, 2003 stated that 7.2 million children remain uninsured.

[5] On the other side of that same coin, health care providers (in the ELCA, our Social Ministry Organizations and some congregations) are constantly challenged by how to live up to our biblical mandate. At the same time, they struggle to live within a very flawed health care system that constantly challenges their economic viability as providers of care. Lutheran Services in America, in its report entitled Descriptive Measures of the LSA Network: 2000-2001 states that the number of people served through the LSA network of agencies in fiscal year 2000-2001 was 5.8 million. The annual cost of providing health and human services was $7.6 billion, up from $6.9 billion in 1999. In other words, the cost to serve continues to escalate exponentially.

[6] We are all in this sinking health care boat together, consumers and providers alike. It is imperative that we advocate together, on the same page, with sensitivity to how we are all impacted by the sickest of sick health care delivery systems in the world. When one of us suffers, we all suffer.

[7] The Division for Church in Society is to be commended for developing this proposed social statement, Caring for Health: Our Shared Endeavor, and other resources which provide the religious and social justice context for the ELCA’s continued involvement in the health care debate. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has one of the largest non-profit healthcare-related delivery systems in the United States. We must all join together in working to make a difference in reshaping a health care system that works for all people in this country. God calls us to be advocates for health.

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson is Assistant Research Professor at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, and the Editor of Lutheran Forum.