Why It’s Time for Faith-Based Health Plans
DR. RICHARD SWENSON

Why is the cost of health care going up? Let me summarize it this way: There are more and more people living longer and longer with more and more chronic diseases, taking more and more medications that are more and more expensive, using more and more technology with higher and higher expectations, in the context of more and more attorneys. All the convergences are simultaneous and the math is exponential. If you do the math, you will see that nothing is self-correcting.  Much of the rising cost that you see is attributed to the success of our health care delivery system. Let’s look at the components of this: 

There are more and more people. That is not necessarily bad; that is good. Some of my best friends are people.  

People are living longer and longer. That is good, too. Two thousand years ago, the average life expectancy was 21 years. In 1900, it was 47 years. Now it is 77 years. That is an exponential curve. It also represents a success of our health care system.   There are more and more chronic diseases. One hundred million Americans have some kind of chronic disease. People used to die of these diseases. They do not die of these conditions anymore, largely because of our health care system.

  People are taking more and more medications. New medicines are very expensive, but they do keep people alive. They get them out of the hospital sooner and they keep them from needing to go into the hospital. 

 People have higher and higher expectations. Our higher and higher expectations are something that we probably need to do something about. Yet we have them.  

We have more and more attorneys. In terms of attorneys, litigation, and medical malpractice, the American Medical Association says that its largest legislative priority is the 19 states that are right now in crisis of existing medical malpractice laws: 25 additional states are poised on the brink of crisis.  

A New Consumer-Choice Model We will hit a tipping point, probably sooner rather than later. When that happens, we are either going to go to a single-payer health care system or do “something else.” Single payer is politically difficult for many reasons. It is a possibility, but I would say it is politically difficult. It is not optimal. “Something else” is optimal, and not as politically difficult. The “something else” is what I would like to see. I believe that the “something else” model is the faith-friendly model–a private-sector, consumer-choice, defined-contribution model. I believe that our health care future will be, and can be, faith friendly. The opposite is not as faith friendly.  What are the rationales and predicted beneficial effects of this consumer-based model? First of all, we have history. We have a long history of churches and religious organizations that date back millennia in terms of health care–starting hospitals, medical schools, clinics, and missions across the world helping the needy, the infirm, the elderly, and the sick. This model also promises superior performance. Peter Drucker, the nationally renowned management expert, makes the case that the volunteer sector–there are 2 million volunteer agencies in the United States today, including faith-based organizations–has a track record that works. It exceeds the track record of the public sector (government) or the private sector (business). 

Pre-existent Natural Synergies  Let me spend some time on the pre-existent natural synergies between the mission of faith and the needs of a health care system.

 First, churches are a center of community. Maybe they are the last remaining centers of community in America. You need a tradition that stretches into the past with durable, stable relationships in the present and a shared vision for the future. Churches have that.  

Second, churches are already helping the ill. Already you have parish nurses. Many churches have been experimenting with this concept. You also have church assistance with hospital visits or post-surgical care. Sadie, who is 85 years old, needs cataract surgery, and her extended family is 1,000 miles away. She just comes and stays at our house for two days. Churches do it all the time. Third, faith-based organizations can provide meals during sickness, respite care, retirement homes, assisted living, nursing homes, hospice for the dying, prescription plans, prayer, and credibility. They also provide care for the poor and even help for the uninsured. It goes on and on and on.  

Finally, they also offer dependable and secure bioethical standards. We will be talking about that today.

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