Health care debate must not forget the vulnerable

I supported the Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed into law last March, because I believe that government help can be one of the ways God provides for the needs of people. As in the Genesis story when God placed Joseph into government to provide for those without resources, God’s means are not limited to individual or religious institutions’ efforts today. 

While laws written by humankind are inherently fallible and flawed, I view health care reform as a significant step in the right direction. Many people of good faith share this opinion, but many people of good faith also disagree.

Revisiting the issue of health care reform can be a morally worthwhile endeavor if done in with earnest desire toward providing health care to all Americans. During last year’s legislative debate, religious leaders on both sides of the issue counseled patience, caution and humility about the great task of reforming such an important facet of our society. This was sound advice last year, and it is sound advice today.

We should not rush a debate about dismantling legislation that was crafted over many months of study and expert input. Provisions that ease suffering, save lives, and attend to the most vulnerable are just now getting started. We can’t turn our backs on those who are already receiving needed protections and benefits: children who will no longer be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, seniors who can now afford prescriptions and seriously ill patients who can no longer be dropped by their insurers. And we cannot forget the millions of Americans who still need the provisions of health care reform that have yet to take effect. 

We must not in haste take away concrete protections if all we offer in replacement are vague assurances that we will pass something better at an undetermined point in the future. We must treat the debate as if lives are at stake – because they are. If the Affordable Care Act were repealed tomorrow, how long would it take to reinstitute the protections that are already making a difference for vulnerable Americans? 

Ministering to a congregation brings me close to people facing many of life’s most difficult circumstances, including serious illnesses and staggering medical bills. People’s struggles are real and many times heartbreaking. Supporters and opponents of this health care reform agree on that much. But as evidenced in the current proceedings in Washington, disagreements on the present law are wide and deep. 

In a time of economic hardship, the claim that the Affordable Care Act is “job-destroying,” as its opponents assert, is an important accusation that warrants bipartisan study, but thus far independent fact-checks have found the claim misleading. 

The claim that health care reform constitutes a "government takeover" of health care that will exacerbate the federal deficit has been refuted by nonpartisan studies of the law from governmental and independent analysts. Wholesale repeal of the Affordable Care Act based on these concerns would cause concrete hardship to vulnerable families in order to address risks that appear significantly overstated.

Lives will be transformed, for better or for worse, by the ultimate outcome of this renewed health care debate. Now we must work harder than ever to ensure that the tone and substance of our political discourse reflect our moral values as a nation. Broaching the discussion with care and thoughtfulness and mutual respect is a hallowed responsibility.

Dr. Joel C. Hunter is senior pastor of Northland – A Church Distributed, a nationally-recognized evangelical megachurch in Longwood, Florida. He served on the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals’ board of directors.