Fixing Health Care: It’s Not as Difficult as you Think it is

There’s an easy way to fix health care.  Now that we’ve turned it into a complicated, partisan political fight, it seems like there is no solution in sight.  But there is.  It will take putting some perspective on it, answering some questions, and deciding to do what’s right.

A few observations.

Let’s talk priorities.  This is about each individual person, and their personal health care.  It is not about profit margins or tax breaks or anything else.  We have a sizeable group of people in this country who advocate for the sanctity of human life, a principle they primarily apply to the unborn.  But if life is sacred, and I certainly believe that it is, then access to health care, the best that society can provide, is a basic human right.  A book could be written substantiating that principle.  From a Christian moral perspective, it’s a no brainer.

If that’s the case, and I believe it is, then the patient is the priority in any health care arrangement.  That’s right.  It’s about providing the best care available to meet the physical, health needs of people.  I’ll bet most people who work in the medical profession would agree with that.  So any health care plan or program that we come up with needs to put the needs of people first, because its not about politicians or profits, it’s about the sanctity of human life.

The “free market” has proven itself incapable of providing a health care program that is equitable with regard to treatment, and affordable.  Human nature being what it is, greed spoils the balance between resources available for care, and what to charge.  The relief of pain, or the preservation of life, are not economic commodities with value determined by their intensity or severity.  In fact, profiting from pain is immoral.  Since it is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens in their pursuit of “life, liberty and happiness,” developing and regulating an equitable, accessible health care system is its responsibility.  And we don’t have to re-invent the wheel on this.  Most European countries, along with Japan and Canada, have successfully figured out how to own, and effectively administer and operate both health insurance, and hospitals and other institutions that provide health care.  At least 17 of those countries have been able to achieve a higher standard of medical care than the United States, and they have done it for about half, or less, of the amount of money that Americans now pay for their health care.

By the way, we already have a government operated health care insurance plan in this country, into which people pay premiums and out of which they can pay for medical services.  It’s called “Medicare.”  The ACA, also known as Obamacare, is a more extensive effort to reform health care, make it accessible to all Americans, and attempt to keep the costs of both care and insurance, which were getting out of the reach of even middle class Americans, from limiting access to health care for even more people.  It has had a cumulative effect in accomplishing several of its objectives:

  • It has added more than 20 million Americans to the ranks of those who have health insurance.  This has cut losses that hospitals and caregivers have had to absorb, especially through emergency rooms and trauma care that they are required to provide, whether patients have insurance or not.
  • It has saved billions of dollars for employers who provide insurance as a benefit by slowing down the rate of increase of the cost of insurance premiums.  Most insurance policies were going up by an average of more than 15% prior to the ACA, that rate has now been cut to about 8%.
  • Millions of people have benefitted from being able to remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26, and from being able to secure insurance benefits in spite of pre-existing conditions.

And here’s some other news.  The plan is not “collapsing,” or “exploding,” as its critics keep saying.  There is absolutely no evidence to support that contention.  There are some companies who aren’t happy because they cannot raise rates higher than the contracts allow for, and they can’t profiteer off of the market changes that have occurred as a result.  But we’ve already discussed the fact that profits aren’t morally compatible with the belief that health care is a basic human right, directly resulting from the belief in the sanctity of human life.  The Affordable Care Act can, according to the Congressional Budget Office, continue to function indefinitely.  Costs could be reduced even further if states that have held out of the exchanges would get involved, and help spread the costs.

But let’s put first things first.  We must come to a broad acceptance in this country of the principle that health care is a basic human right, not a commodity that generates economic value by pain and suffering, or a privilege for those who can afford it.  If we believe in the sanctity of human life, then there is no other option but considering it as a basic human right, something which people should be able to access like clean drinking water.  When we get there, then we can discuss the best way to deliver it, and the first people we should ask about that are medical professionals who understand that their patient is the object of their care.





Southern Baptist Churches that Escrow Cooperative Program Money are not “In Friendly Cooperation”

Raised in a Southern Baptist church which I joined at age 7, educated in a college that belonged to a state convention, and a seminary that belonged to the denomination, in addition to years of ministry service through one of its mission agencies, I’m pretty familiar with how the Southern Baptist Convention works, and how it does business. There are times when its leaders can act in a way that is very provincial and backward, and get outside written documents prescribing how business is to be handled, but there are generally enough level headed people to require a level of accountability, and insist on going by the rules.  So I can claim expert status when I say that I know how the SBC works.

SBC churches operate from an equal platform when exercising denominational participation.  Actually, fewer than a fourth of the churches ever bother to send even one messenger to the annual meeting of the SBC.  However, all but a few churches have the ability, based on their financial support and membership, to send the maxiumum number of 10 messengers to any convention meeting.  The largest church is limited to 10, and some of the smallest churches have the ability to achieve the threshold for 10.

So when a large, influential church determines that it will escrow its denominational support to leverage some kind of denominational action, there are a couple of things that are happening.  One, they are breaking the commitment they made to the denomination, when they affiliated, which included their agreement to submit to the way the denomination does business.  Accountability of denominational agencies and their heads is through the trustees that have been nominated and elected to serve on their boards, a process in which every church has an equal opportunity to participate.  Two, they are arrogantly flashing their own sense of self-importance, and elevating themselves over other churches that are honoring their agreement,  using influence that most other churches don’t have,  or wouldn’t consider using, to force an action that goes against denominational policy any way you look at it.  They are saying, loud and clear, that they are too prominent, too big, and too important to have to follow the same rules that everyone else does.

The primary issue relates to Russ Moore, and his leadership of the ERLC.  From what I can gather from reports in the Baptist press, at least one of the more “prominent” churches that is putting its CP giving in escrow is citing their own disagreement with his actions, particularly during the 2016 presidential campaign, as the reason for their action.  I don’t see anything in the media reports about the church following Biblical principles by sitting down with Moore, and conversing him before publicly declaring their intentions, but they may have communicated with him in some way.  The disagreement is apparently over his lack of enthusiastic support for Trump’s presidential candidacy, and perhaps the church leadership’s interpretation of things Moore may have said about Christians who supported him.  Also mentioned is the position taken by the ERLC, supporting the religious freedom of a mosque in New Jersey.

Regardless of the content of the issues, as a Baptist entity, the ERLC is not directly accountable to any individual church.  It is accountable to a board of trustees, key word “trust”, who are selected by messengers sent from the churches, collectively, that contribute to the expenses of its work. I believe that an individual church, or an individual member of a church, can address the trustees regarding the way any issue has been handled by the ERLC, but the final decision or determination of whether or not the ERLC has followed its directives consistent with its policy is made by its trustees.  To support the SBC through the Cooperative Program is to agree to that way of doing things in advance.  Integrity demands following that procedure in the event of a disagreement, and accepting the outcome and decision of the trustees.

There’s nothing, except integrity, that prevents churches from taking their football and going home when an SBC agency or entity does something it doesn’t like, and the church prefers not to follow the policy.  But in making that decision, the church should realize that its actions are being interpreted as hostile to the denomination, because they are not following the prescribed method for dealing with these kinds of disagreements.  They are publicly stating that, as a congregation, they are no longer in friendly cooperation with the SBC.  If they were, they’d follow the rules to settle their differences, not attempt to force action using money as leverage, and not hold missionaries and seminary students hostage in order to get their own way.

Surely, among the messengers gathered for the next annual SBC meeting, there will be someone who rises, when the motion is made to seat messengers, and makes a motion to declare all churches that have escrowed CP funds during the past year as not being in friendly cooperation with the SBC, and therefore not eligible to be seated as messengers.  Add to that a motion that any current member of those churches currently serving as a trustee or committee member, as a member of a church that is not in friendly cooperation with the SBC, be removed from their current denominational service, and you’ve resolved the problem.



Evidence says School Choice can be Successful


Washington, DC has become one of the most vibrant cities in the nation.  Emerging from the 1960’s with large swaths of the city designated as slums and ghettos, and a high crime rate, the city’s public school system was also in a shambles.  It required a major effort at urban renewal and development to turn things around.  Gentrification has led to high property values, lots of new construction of high rise housing and business infrastructure, and the city is booming again, with a growing population and a rebuilt public school system.

With many of the city’s residents living on incomes well below the poverty rate, families with children were unable to flee the inner city for the suburbs and better schools.  The Opportunity Scholarship program was a federally funded initiative which gave vouchers to families who qualified by income, in order to get their kids out of failing schools and into a classroom where they would have access to quality instruction and the opportunity to succeed.  Most of the families who accessed the program were living on incomes well below the poverty line, and a majority of them were African American.

Families who qualified were able to obtain vouchers of varying amounts of money to use for providing educational services at a school which qualified to take the students based on meeting specific requirements, and where the educational standards were aimed at success.  Most of the students selected private schools within the city where empty seats were made available for students in the program.  Church-state separation hurdles were cleared, since many of the schools where families chose to send their children were church owned and operated.  The program serves about 1,800 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.  Here are some facts, provided by the US Department of Education, that give an overall idea of the success of the program.  These are based on data accumulated through the 2011-12 school term.

  • The high school graduation rate for opportunity scholarship students is 91%, while that of the DC public schools is just under 70%.
  • Students in the program are 25% more likely to attend college than students from the public school system.
  • The average cost per pupil of the program averages from $8,000 in elementary school to as much as $12,000 per student in at the high school level, which is significantly less than it costs taxpayers for one student in the DC public school system for a year.
  • At each succeeding grade level, test scores used to measure academic achievement are higher among the scholarship recipients than their public school counterparts.

The DC public schools have undergone a renovation and restructuring since the Opportunity Scholarship program began.  Buildings were renovated, ineffective teachers were let go, security and expectations for student behavior were improved, and expected student outcomes were raised.  Programs were introduced in schools that were designed to meet the interests and needs of students they served.  The attitude of the leadership was to provide educational services that would motivate families to leave their children in the public schools, and not migrate to other schools because they believed they could get a better education elsewhere.

The irony that one of the better models for school choice exists in the District of Columbia isn’t lost on those who understand the principle of school choice.  In spite of some of the objections, particularly to public funds going to religious-oriented schools, the fact that the program meets the expected student outcomes, and does it’s job is enough for both the parents who use the program, and the congressional leadership.  School choice works, and the success of the DC model, as well as that of other states who are trying it, has the potential to change the face of education in the United States.

  1.  Students from inner-city homes where the income is below the poverty level are successful in a Christian or other religious-based school, which puts to rest the myth about Christian school success being based on pre-selecting just those students who are potentially successful.
  2. Christian and other religious-based schools are able to develop students who achieve at a higher level than most public schools at a much lower cost per student, which proves that throwing money at a problem in education is not always the best way to solve it.
  3. Religious instruction clearly does not interfere with the academic achievement and quality of a Christian school, and in fact, it may prove to be a factor which enhances the expected student outcomes.
  4. The public schools in the District of Columbia were not harmed by taking students out of the classrooms, and redirecting the tax dollars that went with the students.

It’s something to think about.


School Choice and Public Funding

The controversial nomination and narrow, contested selection of Betsy DeVos has brought the topic of school choice back to the news circuit.  There is a lot of speculation about exactly what this appointment, and the new administration in Washington, means to American education.  There are a lot of strong opinions, but it is my perspective that opinion should be based on fact, and when it comes to discussions of school choice, fact seems to be elusive.

School choice, including public funds to assist with tuition and fee payments at private institutions owned by religious groups, has been around for a long time.  Federal and state governments have developed budgets and provided financial assistance to students in the form of vouchers based almost solely on financial need.  Few restrictions were placed on the kinds of schools where these vouchers could be used, other than maintaining some kind of recognized accreditation or system of granting credit.  Initially, they were called Basic Educational Opportunity Grants, but I believe they are now known as Pell Grants.  The basic qualifications to receive them are based on the student, not necessarily on the school they attend.  Students can use Pell Grants to attend a college or university with a distinctively Christian mission and purpose, major in religious studies, or take Bible classes.

The idea, and the legal defense, for voucher programs involving students in elementary, middle and high schools came from the government grant program, and several other similar programs which are based on financial need and provide assistance to students to attend school.  One of the more notably successful voucher programs is one funded entirely by the federal government, known as the Opportunity Scholarship program for students residing within the District of Columbia.  The poor condition of the public schools within the city of Washington prompted the development of a program to help kids from families who didn’t have the means to get them into a school that would teach them, and where they could learn.  Many of the vouchers provided to students are used by their families to pay tuition and fees at some of the city’s elite, private, church-related schools like Sidwell Friends, National Cathedral Academy, and St. Alban’s, along with Catholic schools, and several Evangelical Christian schools, or to attend private, Christian schools in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs.

Some of you reading this blog post had at least part of your education at a church-related college or university paid for by a government grant, or some kind of tax funded scholarship program.  Many Christian colleges and universities provide complete undergraduate theological training identical to coursework offered at seminaries, precisely because students can use need-based government assistance to take courses there, whereas they can’t get that kind of financial aid at a seminary.

The public schools in this country, collectively, have not earned a high level of confidence from parents of students who must attend them.  There are places where public schools perform at, or above, expected levels, but there’s not a lot of consistency in achievement levels.  Some states have very few public schools that perform at expected levels.  But school choice isn’t just about academic achievement.  Many of the students who receive Pell Grants choose a college because its philosophy of education and the principles which drive its mission and purpose are consistent with their Christian faith, and the values that being Christian cultivate in their life.  The school’s instructional objectives help to undergird and strengthen their faith.  That’s the same reason most parents choose a Christian school for their children.  And in this country, they should be free to make that choice, without having it restricted by their ability to pay for it.  After all, they’ve paid taxes, some of which have been committed to the education of children by the government.  They should be able to access some of what they’ve paid to provide the kind of education for their children that will support and undergird the values they possess because of their faith in Christ.

Most Christian schools, the vast majority of them in fact, operate with academic standards that far exceed those of the public school system.  But the bottom line is that most parents choose them as providers of their children’s education based specifically on the integration of Biblical values into the curriculum, and the Christian atmosphere of the school, and not specifically because of superior academics.  And most Christian schools would prefer to be selective about who they admit, based on their Christian identity rather than academic quality, in order to maintain a distinctively Christian atmosphere.  Since the government has assumed the responsibility for providing resources for the education of students, parents who choose a Christian school should also be allowed to direct the tax money that is spent on their child’s education to the school they’ve selected for their kids.  That’s the bottom line for school choice.  Parents who want their children to have a better education than their local public school provides should be able to use the tax money designated to provide their education at a place where they can get what they feel their children need.

The Catholic church in this country established a system of schools because they felt that the public school system was far to influenced by Protestants, and that the schools were, in effect, Protestant Christian schools.  The battles that Baptists fought to keep them from getting public funds were based on the fact that they were very influential, and had solid control over the content taught in public school classrooms.  Through local school boards, most public schools were controlled by Protestants, and were highly favorable to creating an atmosphere where Catholic kids could be evangelized.  So they strenuously objected to any kind of public funding for Catholic schools.  But they haven’t objected to accepting government grants that boosted enrollment and revenue at the colleges and universities they owned.  The principles being advanced by school choice advocates are based on those same arguments