There was a rich man who… lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. (Luke 16:19-21)
Now I understand why Lazarus has a name: Jesus wants us to know him by name, and never be able to put him our of our minds.
Here are the Lazaruses at my door: Karen, whose daycare job provided no insurance and desperately needed surgery for a prolapsed uterus. Richard, diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 24, fighting to survive host-graft disease so he can swallow solid food again and build up the strength to return to work. Mark, diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at 20, a gifted teacher whose ability to work depends on costly prescriptions. Sean’s widowed mother calling in desperation: he’s mentally ill, off his meds, and falling into addiction.
I am the Rich Man: one of a class of Americans who has never had to worry one day in my life about whether or not I could get all the health care I need.
Since the financial aid and insurance protections of the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2014, I’ve been able to rewrite the tale of Lazarus and the Rich Man with about 150 neighbors. Ohio’s Governor Kasich, moved equally by his religious conscience and the fiscal no-brainer of 100% federal funding, accepted the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, leading to 732,000 working-age Ohioans getting free coverage.
I learned how to do Ohio’s simple online Medicaid application, got certified to help people use Healthcare.gov, and started volunteering to help people see their options and choose coverage. Getting to the final screen often feels like Christmas morning. We whoop and wipe away tears of relief.
Richard, a meticulous house painter whose vision is deteriorating, got free glasses through Medicaid. Karen was able to have her surgery in May because federal aid reduced the premiums and deductible to a level she could afford on her salary of $22,000 a year. Mark lost his job at the end of 2014 and was able to go on Medicaid to get his Crohn’s meds covered during the hard months until he was appointed director of education for Cincinnati’s Homeless Coalition.
For the moment, I can still bring balm to Lazarus.
But this year, as the House rushed passage of the American Health Care Act, I have had to shift to crisis mode. Among the terrifying elements:
- Repealing the taxes that fund the premium and cost-sharing subsidies
- If you live in one of the 19 states that didn’t expand Medicaid by March 17 this year, too bad, too late.
- Even in states that did, if the factory where you work closes in 2021, you can’t enroll in Medicaid to tide you over till you get another job.
I feel as if I am trying to sandbag the banks of a flooding Mississippi with nothing but a teaspoon to move the sand.
From Hades, the Rich Man implored: Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment. Abraham replied, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16: 27,31)
My Five Brothers are the members of Congress. I read the parable as a command to warn them before they harm constituents. I write incessantly to my Congressman and Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who’s on the select team drafting the Senate’s bill.
I track the evolving bills on nonpartisan websites like the Kaiser Family Foundation (www.kff.org). I write letters to the editor (the third try finally got published) to implore fellow voters to search their souls. Is it fair that the mortgage interest deduction is an entitlement, but Medicaid is going to be capped, hamstringing states’ ability to respond to recessions or public health crises like opioid addiction?
Currently 40% of American children are covered by Medicaid. Do we really want to force our states to start triage, dividing a fixed pot of Medicaid money between children, disabled people, and the seniors with tiny social security checks who desperately need it to cover their Medicare Part B premiums?
I don’t want the premiums of my 50-year-old neighbor Mary, a home health aide, to skyrocket.
I’m haunted by another parable of a rich man: Nathan’s comeuppance to King David, who stole the wife of his loyal general Uriah. (2 Samuel 12)
Is repealing the ACA’s taxes on medical insurers and medical device makers a greater good than helping Karen get surgery without going bankrupt?
I am the Rich Man, but I don’t want to end the ACA’s 3.8% tax on my unearned income at the cost of Richard’s life. Jesus’ love was immediate and practical: when he encountered someone sick – even in a crowd, by a touch on his robe – he dropped what he was doing and responded to their pain and need. If we’re following Jesus and taking God’s love into the world, how can we not act to help those who need care?
Image Credit: https://www.wikiart.org/en/esaias-van-de-velde/hall-with-the-parable-of-lazarus-and-the-rich-man-luke-16-19-21
Ariel Miller is Junior Warden of A&HT, a writer, photographer, and part of many other ministries.