Coffin, 10-24-2021

Guest Commentary: Health care is a moral obligation

(Orlando Sentinel October 24, 2021)

By James Coffin

Our federal legislators are once again debating health care.

Question: What if the enhanced market subsidies provided by the American Rescue Plan Act were made permanent?

Answer: The 318,500 uninsured Floridians (3,640,000 nationwide) who benefited from ARPA’s health-insurance tax credit wouldn’t lose their insurance — as will happen if the subsidies expire.

But why should I be concerned?

For the past 10 years, I’ve served as executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida. My interaction with adherents of highly diverse faith traditions and life philosophies has convinced me that, despite our differences, we hold many more values in common than might be recognized at first glance.

For example, the range of faiths and humanistic perspectives with which I deal all promote the importance of the proper care and nurture of both body and mind — though the proscriptions, prescriptions and motivations for how to achieve the goal may vary.Some seek to live healthfully because their sacred scriptures mandate it. Others because it’s an obvious prerequisite to our long-term survival as a species. Still others simply because a healthier life is a happier life.

Some groups follow clearly outlined lists of do’s and don’ts. Other groups leave more decisions to the individual. But few adherents to any of the life philosophies with which I deal would deny the imperative to try to preserve one’s health and to seek professional intervention when those efforts fail.

But there’s more to this picture.

These same faith traditions and secular world views also share a strong conviction that the “haves” are socially and morally obligated to help the “have nots.” Those with at least some power and advantage need to help the disadvantaged and the powerless.

We may not always agree on every detail of how to most effectively achieve the goal. But we agree that working diligently to solve such issues is a social-moral imperative.

And to the degree that we fail to achieve the goal, we recognize that we weaken our society and pay an incalculable price in productivity, national security, communal solidarity and human happiness.

Ignoring the problem carries a big price tag.

Because so many people of goodwill subscribe to the values just enumerated, religious and secular nonprofits provide an impressive array of loving and caring services for those in need — and that includes a considerable amount of health care. Such service to the community makes a huge difference in the lives of many who would otherwise be without hope.

But any who have served on the board of a house of worship that engages in such service to the community — or who has worked as a volunteer for a charitable organization — soon recognize that the need far outpaces the resources. And the distribution of the assistance is uneven.

Which is why the role of government is so vital.

Government has the infrastructure and funding — there’s always money for what’s deemed truly essential — to ensure a more comprehensive and equitable distribution of health-care services.

But too often legislators lose sight of the magnitude and urgency of the need. They forget that many of their fellow humans face unremitting trauma not only from illness itself but from the pain of knowing that, because they’re not insured, their access to medical care is limited at best.

The Interfaith Council is nonpartisan. And we aren’t wedded to any particular approaches or pieces of legislation. We just want the goal achieved. We feel we have a moral mandate to advocate for it.

We’re happy to have any serious options considered — provided they promote human health and happiness and address the true magnitude and nature of the need.

As a nation, as states, as counties, as municipalities, as health-care providers, as faith-based organizations, as secular nonprofits and as individuals, the health and welfare of all should be seen as the prime social-moral imperative it is.

The time to do something significant about it is right now. And a good place to start would be to preserve affordable health insurance for millions before ARPA’s temporarily expanded insurance subsidies expire.

James Coffin is executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.