President Trump celebrates with congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved the American Health Care Act, to repeal major parts of Obamacare and replace it with the Republican health care plan, in Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlos Barria

Health care bill is a literal death sentence for many poor people

NEW YORK (RNS) If the sweeping new health care bill approved by the House passes the Senate next month, it will mean a literal death sentence for many poor people so that a few wealthy elites can acquire more and more.

Indeed, the bill cuts about a trillion dollars in funding for health care while reducing taxes for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans by about the same amount.

One of the big controversies with this bill involves coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. An amendment to the bill that claims to cover people with pre-existing conditions does so at such a high cost that it, too, is a death knell. A recent report from the AARP projects that under the proposed bill, “high-risk pool premiums for people with preexisting conditions could be as high as $25,700 annually,” an amount that exceeds the 2016 poverty threshold for a family of four.

Rep. Mo Brooks. Screenshot from video

A debate about health care and the value of the lives of everyone — including poor people, women, the elderly and immigrants — is raging in our society. On Monday, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., used religious language to argue against a health care plan that protects people with pre-existing conditions, insisting “people who lead good lives” and “have done the things to keep their bodies healthy” should receive reduced costs for health care.

Brooks has categorized people as deserving and undeserving, and has used God to blame the sick for their sickness. Where are the moral voices opposing him, condemning this act of sending tens of millions to the ranks of the uninsured, of damning those with pre-existing conditions or too little money for higher premiums to the hell of no health care and the dance with death?

Where are the prophets of our day echoing Isaiah, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing homeless children” (Isaiah 10)?

Where are the so-called evangelical Christians who have been so loud on certain moral issues — prayer in public schools, abortion and homosexuality — but so soft on access to health care and the sanctity of life? Or will they only speak up to damn millions of God’s children to poverty?

The glaring health care crisis creates an environment in which congregations must determine what kind of relationship they want to have with families in health crisis and to a political system that devalues life by throwing millions off the insurance rolls but putting billions of dollars into weapons that kill people all over the world.

We can turn to our holy Scriptures for guidance on how Jesus and the prophets approached health and health care. Our Bible shows us that the bill passed in the House on Thursday (May 4) is anathema to a Jesus-care plan.

Mark 5:25-34, for instance (and also Matthew 9:20-22), tells the story of a woman who has been hemorrhaging for a dozen years. She has gone to doctors who have not helped her; she has spent all the money that she has and still hasn’t been healed. She may not have children, and in the society she is a part of, if she was not married before her illness, she probably has not found someone willing to marry an infertile woman. So, along with being sick and poor, this woman may have no one to care for her as she grows older.

But with Jesus, this woman is healed. Not only does the bleeding stop, but her disease is cured. She is restored into the community. Jesus says to this woman that her faith has made her well.

Jesus didn’t ask for an insurance card or for any payment whatsoever from the people he healed. Indeed, Jesus believed in universal health care and set up free health care clinics as he traveled throughout the land. There is a multitude of stories, especially in the Gospel of Mark, of Jesus healing the sick. Jesus’ first patient is a leper. Before being healed, the leper says “if you choose, you can make me clean.” “I do choose” is Jesus’ reply.

We, too, could choose to heal the millions of sick in this country who simply can’t afford health care and medicine. Instead, we threaten to take away what help they have.

So, what is demanded of us in these times? Just as in the 1960s (with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other civil rights organizations) and in the 2000s and 2010s (with the Health Care is a Human Right campaign, and the Moral Mondays and other movements), we need to continue to bring the urgency of the needs and demands of those most impacted by the injustices we’re facing through nonviolent mobilization and direct action.

Instead of repealing the ACA and cutting Medicaid, we must advocate for universal health care. We need to take the profit out of health care and prioritize the people first. We need to wage a battle for hearts and minds that is rooted in deep moral and rights-based values.

We need to declare that the deepest public concerns of our faith traditions are how our society treats the poor, those on the margins, the “least of these”; equality and representation under the law; and the desire for peace, love and harmony within and among nations. We must take up the call of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 to bring the poor together across race, creed and place and truly combat racism, economic exploitation and militarism. We must build a new Poor People’s Campaign for today.

(The Rev. Liz Theoharis is founder and co-director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice and author of "Always With Us?"


  1. “Indeed, the bill cuts about a trillion dollars in funding for health care while reducing taxes for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans by about the same amount.” – this is the entire goal of the Trump admin and the Republican party in general. Talk about helping the middle class then screw them.

  2. “Where are the so-called evangelical Christians who have been so loud on certain moral issues — prayer in public schools, abortion and homosexuality — but so soft on access to health care and the sanctity of life? Or will they only speak up to damn millions of God’s children to poverty?” Oh, so now you’re interested in what we have to say?

  3. “Instead of repealing the ACA and cutting Medicaid, we must advocate for universal health care. We need to take the profit out of health care and prioritize the people first. We need to wage a battle for hearts and minds that is rooted in deep moral and rights-based values.”
    You need to take healthcare out of the hands of insurance companies looking for profits. With insurance companies everyone profits because companies overcharge them beyond belief. You know, your economy keeps going.
    Government doesn’t do much better, but raise your taxes some and follow a national health care like Canada. You say you have better health care, then quit complaining. At least our patients don’t owe a hospital $40,000 after a tonsillectomy, or die from a heart attack with the family needing to mortgage the house.
    What’s your priority?

  4. Said bill has not even passed the Senate i.e. it is not the law of the land.

    Some suggestions to make it work:

    Once again some incentives to live a healthy life style and also ways to pay for universal health, Trumpcae care if it becomes law:

    1. An added two dollar health insurance tax (or higher) on a pack of cigarettes. Ditto taxes on alcoholic beverages, the higher the alcohol content, the higher the tax. Ditto for any product shown to be unhealthy (e.g. guns, high caloric/fatty foods??)

    2. Physicals akin to those required for life insurance- the overly obese will pay significantly more Medicare and universal health insurance (unless the obesity is caused by a medical condition).

    3. No universal health care coverage for drivers driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or using cell phones while driving.

    4. No universal health coverage for drug addicts or for those having self-inflicted STDs.

    5. No universal health coverage for abortions unless the life of the mother is at significant risk and judged to be so by at least two doctors.

    6. No universal health coverage for euthanasia.

    7. No foreign aid given to countries who abort females simply because they are female.

  5. Hey, they’re supplying the lube!

  6. I saw this parody that had Jesus refusing to heal someone because they had a pre existing condition. Of course Jesus wouldn’t this do, but it is a good parody.

  7. Will some conservative cretin please explain to me how it is in the best interests of the nation to remove the health insurance of 25-50 million people (especially veterans as PTSD is now a pre-existing condition), and give a big tax break to the wealthy?

  8. It’s Trump’s “New [art of the] Deal” to decrease the surplus population.

  9. “Government doesn’t do much better,”

    Actually it does. Single payer systems in other countries like Canada provide effective coverage to the most people and lower costs than these semi-private plans. Insurance works best with large pools of insured. Single payer spreads risks and costs for the entire nation rather than a patchwork of private and state and local interests.

    The easiest plans to implement would be like Japan’s system. It is public/private mix. All people employed by companies of a given size must be insured by their employer, otherwise there is a national single payer healthcare plan.

  10. A modest proposal to say the least.

  11. That’s very interesting about Japan.

  12. I wonder who has and hasn’t considered the state-by-state population changes and financial impacts, as those who need the most care have no choice but to move to states offering better health care coverage.

  13. Japan and Canada are relatively small countries, compared to the United States, so we can’t really make comparisons. And it is well known that it is almost impossible to get appointments for healthcare in Canada within a reasonable amount of time. Many Canadians have private health insurance, and they have their surgeries done in the United States because they can’t wait six months to get much-needed surgery.

  14. Japan has a population of 130 million people, almost five times as many as Canada.It’s not a small country in many respects. As for wait times over there, it is largely exaggerated for effect. For example, both my in laws were cancer patients and were able to get their surgery and chemo at little to no cost to themselves. Here, they would have been bankrupted or dead by now.

  15. Unfortunately, the future demographic for Japan has a very poor outlook. More and more elderly will be consuming more and more medical care, and the younger will be required to pay for it. That’s the situation where the United States is clearly headed. Sad To say.

  16. The whole point of healthcare insurance is spreading risk by pooling money from all insured. We always pay for someone else’s healthcare. The difference with government based healthcare is a much larger insured pool.

  17. Thank you for clarifying that, Spuddie. It’s a crucial point that far too many people don’t seem to understand. In fact, it’s the very foundation of insurance of any type.

  18. This man died. Why? Because he lost his healthcare when Blitz USA closed. Don’t tell his wife that people don’t die because they don’t have access to healthcare. If this congressman thinks people can just get medicare and they will be fine, he is ignorant and knows nothing about medicare. Medicare does not fully cover meds and chemo is considered as medication. If you can’t get your medication, guess what Mr. Congressman. You DIE which is exactly what happened to this woman”s husband when those lights turned out for the last time and they walked away from their jobs and their healthcare. You sir, along with all the rest of your rich congress buddies, have now done this again to those who can not afford insurance. Many of them will die and you will stand before God one day and be asked why you ordered their deaths by voting to replace Obamacare with the new so called Trumpcare for the rich and mighty only. You have not only voted to kill the poor but you have sold your very souls.…/comment-page-1/

  19. Sounds more like a commentary on widespread “Cafeteria Christianity.” “Oh, that’s a good one, that one applies to someone else, not me.” It’s only gotten worse. I remember a time when “radical priests” protested the War in Vietnam. Now they say “Well, DeVos will give us vouchers.” They all want a magic ticket, a free ride, authority without responsibility (even to their own credos.) They all want to feel persecuted by focusing on plans for the persecution of Constitutive Others.

    People outside religion view most of what is said within religion as self-serving twaddle, albeit self-serving twaddle that you are entirely within your rights to believe. However, it being *a right* doesn’t make it *right.* People outside religion would be more than happy to help you with your walls. Just realize your scope of authority ends at the end of your collective noses. When you venture into politics, you discredit your own beliefs anyway.

    Anyone with a moral high ground needs to police their own behaviors first. Part of the reaction against the “Christian Lifestyle” is that in practice it is entirely self-centered and subjective in focus. “I, me, mine” behaviors do more than cast doubt on “first cast out the beam out of thine own eye” words, they mock it and render it as propaganda.

  20. Are you saying Blue States should start instituting means requirements on immigrants from Red States? Sort of like Australia does on a national basis. “Do you have an employable skill and an offer of a job?” Blue States already carry an onerous federal burden in supporting grifter companies and individuals in Red States.

  21. Actually, it can be self centred. That is a form of pride. You are correct.
    I just found it funny that they don’t care what we say; they have no respect for us, so you’re going to pile it on because we haven’t commented? Seemed a little silly.

  22. How is “economies of scale” burned into the ideology of corporations, of countries and families and every social construct sized between the two, regardless of economic system, but somehow with regard to healthcare, being bigger and with more resources and more inherent flexibility is suddenly detrimental?

    Try getting an appointment in the US “within a reasonable amount of time” with any doctor, for any ailment, accident or affliction, when you don’t have insurance. You *can* walk or get carted into an ER, courtesy of those with insurance, by way of their inflated bills.

    Most of what is “much-needed surgery” is in the eye of the beholder. The wait in Canada is not six months, or anything approaching it. Most “medical tourists” from Canada to the US want discretionary surgeries, ranging from entirely cosmetic to beneficial but not curative, such as joint replacement surgeries, to entirely experimental. The US also has a far greater abundance of cosmetic surgeons, because of the difference in priorities between the two systems. US citizens go to Mexico for exotic treatments for incurable cancers, as a last hope. That does not make Mexico’s healthcare system better.

    To some of those medical tourists it is also about time, they want to jump the line and realize that crossing a border and spending their own money gives them that option. “Serving time” is more proportioned to efficacy in Japan and Canada, while in the US it is entirely about ability to pay. Both of them have better life-expectancies than the US, so they must be doing something right. (#2 and #18 vs. #43.)

    All healthcare is proportioned. That is the nature of limited resources and mostly inflexible demand. US hospitals, via ambulance service and ER mostly, treat the indigent to the extent that their lives are at risk, and at the highest possible rates. Health insurers have formularies– lists of drugs they will pay for, that often deliberately exclude some of the most expensive and necessary ones. Big Pharma bribes doctors to overly prescribe, often off-label, their “most-profitable” drugs (like the opiates) while simultaneously running into “production issues” for flu-shots. Health insurers use rescission departments, who look for technicalities to deny coverage. Doctors and hospitals play games with CPT codes to get paid for work not authorized by the patient’s insurer. There are many more. Their commonality is that they are all cost-based restrictions, rather than need-based.

    The world is gray, and extreme viewpoints or practices are by nature less than optimal, but consider one thing. Imagine a world where what you pay at the restaurant, or the grocers, is entirely dependent on your BMI and the perceived nutritional characteristics of your purchase. While that is an absurd and reductionist allegory of socialized medicine, I think it still favorably compares with the absurd reductionist allegory for capitalized medicine, where because you’re a millionaire gas costs *you* $11,000 / gallon and that McBurger and fries goes for $25,000. Neither of those is a reasonable endpoint, but both are possible directions.

  23. Nothing wrong with caring about oneself. A lot wrong with demonizing and scapegoating your equals to make yourself feel better. “Love yourself” without empathy is simply malignant narcissism.

    It isn’t a lack of commentary, but commentary that directly ignores what are declared most-profound values. I can make endless secular arguments why socialized medicine is good, from promoting the ideals of the Constitution to being the most reasonable and economically viable solution. Christians have “I’d rather think about what hurts the homosexuals.” That transcends silly, all the way to heartless and counterproductive and irrational and un-Constitutional. Simple law, with lists of what you shouldn’t do and the risks if you’re caught and punished, a least common denominator lower threshold on acceptable behavior, have it all over the putative “objective moral high ground” of religion so assiduously and subjectively applied to “everyone but me.”

  24. No, I’m not suggesting that at all. I’m simply noting that, under the proposed bill, people whose financial means can’t support their medical needs in one state may find relief in another, leading to the distinct possibility that states with stingier medical insurance will enjoy the ever-increasing financial advantages of ever-increasingly healthier populations, while states with generous coverage will face the ever-increasing and eventually untenable financial disadvantages of ever-increasingly unhealthier populations.

    So I can’t help but wonder if this financially unbalancing scenario has been contemplated by the partisan authors and supporters of this bill, considering that the states which offer and advocate generous coverage tend to lean left.

    This is one reason why I support federal rather than state regulation of medical insurance.

  25. I agree with what you say, except for the “Christians” generalization. Most Christians respect the equality, rights, and private lives of others. The problem lies with the loudmouthed minority of politically bullying Christians who seek to impose their beliefs upon (and manage the lives and rights of) their equals.

  26. Ode to TrumpCare (to the tune of “Daisy, Daisy”)

    Access, schmaccess
    That is a dirty word
    It’s de-ceit-ful
    As if you haven’t heard

    We can’t afford the copay
    Unless our health is okay
    Affordable care… is no longer there…
    And access won’t get us insured.

  27. The US is 20-some years into a hell of a war on the poor. Assuming this bill ends Medicaid, of course many will die. Low-income elderly and the disabled rely on Medicare/Medicaid, with Medicaid covering the costs of essential prescriptions, treatments, doctor visits, etc.

  28. The hardest hits aren’t to middle classers, at least as long as they can maintain a middle class income. Check what is considered a “middle class income.” Compare this with the average annual income of former welfare families (roughly $4k). This puts things into better perspective.

  29. It’s correct that Medicare doesn’t fully cover prescriptions and treatments. When one’s income and assets fall low enough, Medicaid kicks in, covering those costs. Ending Medicaid, of course, ends access to life-saving treatments/prescriptions.

  30. Dirty little secret: Middle class America has remained adamant in their belief that people are entitled only to what they, personally, can afford. They also maintain: “Get big government out of our lives!”

    Take it a step further. What would be the logic of providing anything more than emergency room services to the poor, just to dump them back on the streets? We know that not everyone can work (health, etc.) and that there aren’t jobs for all. We ended actual welfare aid 20-some years ago. Lack of adequate food and shelter take a very heavy toll on human health. In fact, the overall life expectancy of the US poor has already fallen below that of every developed nation.

    That said, since Reagan, our government has effectively redistributed several trillion tax payer dollars upward, to the few at the top. Much of this has gone to corporations, often used to build factories and offices outside the US, shutting down jobs here. Complicated issue, but the bottom line is that the US itself has slowly been transitioning into just another third world labor state that discards those who aren’t of current use.

  31. That deal was already set in place by the Clinton administration. This just moves the premature death rate up the economic scale.

  32. But the catch is that those in Congress know that anything more than emergency room services for our very poor wouldn’t make sense. It would be like trying to fill a sieve with water. What would be the logic of providing more than emergency room services to people who are denied adequate food and shelter?

  33. What do they do with their very poor? Out here in the real world, not everyone can work (health, etc.), and there aren’t jobs available for all. In the US, even providing emergency room services runs the risk of people complaining that the poor are catching pneumonia and breaking their own bones just to get some free food and shelter in hospitals.

  34. Canada is bigger than the US, and the US has a higher population. I assume that they, too, have citizens who can’t work, and those for whom no jobs are available.

  35. The “good news” (from a bourgeois perspective) is that the US has grown much poorer. Since Reagan, in fact, the overall quality of life plunged from a rating of #1, down to #48 by the time Obama was elected. The US shipped out a huge number of family-supporting jobs since the 1980s, ended actual welfare aid in the 1990s, so poverty has been growing. Meanwhile, the overall life expectancy of the US poor has plunged. More people in poverty, shorter lives, translates into less costs in connection with the elderly.

  36. Which is why universal health care isn’t possible in the US. Not everyone can work, and the last I heard (a couple years ago) there were 7 jobs for every 10 jobless people who still have the means to pursue one (home address, phone, etc.). A portion of today’s population has no or little income.

  37. The issues all go back to square one: What should we do with our surplus population — those who aren’t of current use to employers?

  38. Net pop loss in Japan is 250 per DAY. It doesn’t sound like much but you can figure that over the course of a year. They may not be bankrupt but they will be gone. You can’t take it with you.

  39. Actually, our middle class applauded when Clinton ended actual welfare aid, and they haven’t been interested in the consequences. We’re a hard-core survival-of-the-fittest people, and have put our lives entirely at the mercy of the whims of the job market. Unfortunately, we have also shipped out an extraordinary number of jobs.

  40. Empathy was rooted out of US culture by the 1990s.

  41. The pool is always the same. It’s the way the market works that matters. I suppose I will be excoriated for mentioning an insurance market. Even though the healthy will always subsidize the sick, a jobs-filled economy can absorb that inequity.

  42. We just define “rights” according to our own standards. Consider that the UN’s UDHR lists the most fundamental human rights as food, shelter, and medical care — even for the jobless poor. Americans disagree.

  43. What would be affordable to those with little or no incomes? Keep in mind that the middle class are less than half the population.

  44. I’m not sure what you mean by “good news” from a bourgeois perspective but, yes, our economy, and our people’s wages have been stagnant. Unfortunately, Americans want cheap goods, not thinking that their jobs would be exported. At some point the cheap goods do not compensate for low wages, low-quality jobs or no jobs at all. We’re there now.

  45. Cigarettes have already been hyper-taxed, with a pack of cigarettes going from fifty cents to $5.00 in recent years. There aren’t enough smokers for this to make any impact. If we want usable punitive taxation, we must start hyper-taxing alcohol and junk food, to start with. Maybe $10.00 for a bottle of beer, $5.00 for a small bag of candy.

  46. And now we’ve made malignant narcissism a national treasure.

  47. It’s not inequity. The entire business model of insurance is that large pools of health people subsidize the sick. It is not a bug, it is the feature and purpose for existing.

    A jobs based insurance plan only works in an economy where employers are generally willing to provide it. In a “right to work” environment with endemic and constant labor law violation and a “fungible” work force you end up with legions of uninsured or under insured working people.

    Nations that have private employment based healthcare also set up a parallel single payer system to fill the gaps. Japan’s model requires large employers to fully cover employees and everyone else goes on a public single payer system funded by taxes. It us only hysterics and lobbying from insurers that prevent a more useful public model from taking hold here.

  48. That is a ridiculous response. 130 million people are not vanishing any time soon.

    Japan will do what every developed nation does in the situation, have an immigration policy. They do it right now but don’t talk about it openly.

    Their healthcare system is still far superior to ours and is largely company provided. It is the hysterical fear of single payer systems here which make things overly difficult.

  49. That is a ridiculous response. The nation is still collecting tax revenues and had billions of dollars of income into its budget.

    Insurance involves socialized risks. There are 95 working people for every 5 jobless. Meaning significant income collected in taxes which subsidize the system.

  50. The very poor still have access to healthcare under such systems. We already have a public system for them. All but the homeless have access to it.

    “runs the risk of people complaining that the poor are catching pneumonia and breaking their own bones just to get some free food and shelter in hospitals.”

    Running the risk of meaningless fact free complaints is a side effect of government benefits. Attacking them appeals to the ignorant and malicious.

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