Chapter 5: Healthcare and Wellbeing

Health and wellbeing are foundational to the success and continued growth of our communities and our nation. In our current system, it is all but impossible to receive medical services without health insurance and avoid medical debt.  Both research and personal stories teach us that without health insurance, people are less likely to receive medical care. Understanding who has and who lacks access to affordable health insurance is a key part of understanding the intersection of healthcare and 21st century poverty. But there is still more to the story, because even with insurance health outcomes vary by income level, race, and gender. Health and poverty both intersect and influence each other. High medical costs can cause any family or individual to experience poverty with one diagnosis, while low-income communities experience disproportionate health disparities.

Seeing the connection between health and poverty cannot simply be an academic exercise for us; this issue has real life consequences. In the United States, life expectancy in the lowest-income neighborhoods is 10 years shorter than in the richest neighborhoods.1 Black men have the shortest life expectancy (72.5 years) compared to other groups.2 Additionally, infant mortality is significantly higher for Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native infants compared to white infants.3

Some of these disparities stem from the fact that in our current reality, healthcare is primarily obtained through an employer. For many possible reasons, this may not always benefit an individual or family: an employer may not offer employer-sponsored coverage, a worker might not be eligible, or someone could be experiencing a period of unemployment.4 Most uninsured people have at least one working member of their family, despite the common belief that employment should be the key factor in determining one’s access to healthcare. Moreover, because of the connection between health insurance coverage and work, some ascribe the same incorrect beliefs about work and poverty to health and poverty. The reality is more complicated. In some situations when a worker is offered employer-sponsored healthcare, or an individual qualifies for subsidies in the marketplace, insurance costs can still be prohibitive.

The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 allowed states to expand Medicaid for adults who previously earned too much income to qualify but were still struggling financially, established health insurance exchanges with subsidies for individuals and families to purchase their own health insurance, and more. This resulted in a significant decrease in uninsured people in our nation, from 44 million in 2013 to less than 28 million as of the end of 2016.4 Unfortunately, much of this success is being rolled back as President Trump and Congressional Republicans work to dismantle the legislation. In the last quarter of 2017, the uninsured rate began rising again, adding 3.2 million people. Healthcare is a human right, and it is both a personal and political fault that millions of our sisters and brothers lack access to necessary, life-giving care in the 21st century.

Reflecting on Healthcare

Iman Jandali is the Program Coordinator at American Muslim Health Professionals.

A Personal Story about Healthcare

Terry McCallister shares her struggle to afford the healthcare she needs in Missouri.

Facts and Figure
    • 6 million people were uninsured in the United States in 2016.4
    • 45% of uninsured adults remained uninsured because the cost of coverage was too high in 2016.4
    • One in five uninsured adults in 2016 went without needed medical care due to cost.4
    • 9% of Asian adults, 22% of Latinx adults, 14% of Black adults, and 9% of white adults were uninsured in 2016.5
    • 75% of uninsured people had at least one full-time worker in their family, and an additional 11% had a part-time worker in their family.4
Words of Wisdom
Health is not a consumer good but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege.

-Pope Francis

In a country that enjoys a high standard of living, it is wrong to deny access to life-saving medical care to our people.

-Sister Carren Herring, RSM

We Pray

O Creator, known to us by many names, we come to you in prayer.

As it says in Ezekiel 47:12: “On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” The fruit, leaves, and the river, which you created can bring us healing. People, who you created in your image and gave certain gifts, can bring healing. But, we know other people value money over their neighbor’s health and let policy send that message.

Your Son came not to condemn the world, but to heal the world. Jesus physically and spiritually healed all creations, including men, women, and children. Healing is what he was called to do. Some lawmakers, who claim to be followers of Christ, are actively working to deny access to healthcare for all. That’s not what Jesus would do. Jesus didn’t stop a woman from touching his garment. Jesus didn’t disqualify people due to a pre-existing condition–even if it was death.

O Creator, speak to policymakers, and remind them being a Christian involves more than calling yourself. You live into that testimony. Compel them to share a prophetic testimony through just healthcare policy. Remind them to ask what Jesus would do to the least of these.


Written by Rev. Jason Carson Wilson, M. Div., Justice & Peace Policy Fellow, United Church of Christ, Justice & Witness Ministries

Reflection Questions
  • What is the significance of Jesus acting as a healer throughout the Gospels? How does that call us to live?
  • How does lack of adequate healthcare affect our ability to thrive as members of a society?
  • In what ways do we treat healthcare as a privilege instead of a right in our country?
Additional Resources

Learn more about healthcare in the 21st Century:

Continue reading Conclusion: A Theology of Abundance
Return to 21st Century Poverty Homepage 


1. Irwin, Neil and Bui, Quoctrung. The Rich Live Longer Everywhere. For the Poor, Geography Matters. New York Times. April 11, 2016,

2. Arias, Elizabeth, Heron, Melonie, and Xu, Jiaquan. National Vital Statistics Reports: United States Life Tables. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. August 14, 2017,

3. Ubri, Petry and Artiga, Samantha. Disparities in Health and Health Care: Five Key Questions and Answers. Kaiser Family Foundation. August 12, 2016,

4. Kaiser Family Foundation. Key Facts about the Uninsured Population. November 29, 2017,

5. Kaiser Family Foundation. Health Coverage by Race and Ethnicity: Changes Under the ACA. Jan 26, 2018,