The Banner’s “Reformed Matters” column recently offered differing views on how we as Canadians and Americans can best meet the biblical principle of providing health care for those in need (Health Care: A Moral Imperative by Henry Holstege and Bob Ritsema, and The Complexities of Health Care by Jordan J. Ballor). That all God’s children should have access has always been a fundamental Christian tenet. Jesus himself eagerly provided health care to those who asked. And Scripture does not record that they were billed accordingly.
Decide for yourself which approach best works out that principle. But allow me to toss a few practical observations into the conversation. I grew up in Canada and pastored churches there for over two decades. I also spent seven years in the U.S. as a student and then another 10 years stateside working for the denomination. So I’ve experienced firsthand the universal health care approach used in Canada and the free market approach in the U.S.—though I’m certainly no expert.
For what it’s worth, some observations as a health care recipient and a longtime pastoral visitor. One heads-up: I’ve been living north of the line since well before the Affordable Care Act (also called Obamacare) kicked in.
- Overall, both countries provide excellent health care by competent and devoted professionals.
- Medical professionals make much more money in the U.S. but also have much higher costs.
- The U.S. system has more of the expensive “toys” like MRI machines, and they use them more often—maybe too often—to keep from being sued. Balance that against wait times in Canada being so long that often Canucks hop the border to get their “pictures” taken—accompanied, of course, by a fat wallet to pay for the privilege.
- My naïve perception is that more widely available technology in the U.S. may extend an average lifetime by some months. But that extra lifespan is spent on filling out form after form after form. In Canada you just flash your health card—then wait in line.
- In the U.S. your work (if you are blessed with such) pays for your health care and you copay plenty for it. If you’re uninsured, you get dinged extra for medical services because you’re “out of plan.” In Canada you pay for medical services through taxes, including heavy “sin” taxes on such items as gasoline, alcohol, and cigarettes.
Two things I like better about the Canadian system: it covers (almost) everybody and it allows medical professionals, not bureaucrats, to decide on appropriate treatment.
Maybe you’ve heard the story of a dearly departed who knocked on the pearly gates and requested admission. When the gatekeeper asked about her profession, she answered that she had been an HMO administrator. “Hmm,” the angel said, “I’m not sure if I can let you in. Let me check the policy.” He returned with a wry smile. “Yes, you may stay . . . for three days.”
Praise the Lord that our Great Physician doesn’t parcel out healing grace in such measured quantities. Wonder what that means for health care?