RendellCare: What Would Jesus Do?

Remember the passage in the Bible where Jesus called upon the Roman Empire to provide universal, government-run health insurance? What! There’s no such passage? Perhaps someone should point that out to Governor Ed Rendell.

Recently, Governor Rendell declared that if Christians were truly concerned about morality or family values, “they should heed the Bible’s advice to ‘heal the sick’ or stop claiming to support such values.” By that, the Governor means Christians should support higher taxes to pay for his “Cover All Pennsylvanians” health care plan. Earlier this year, Governor Rendell claimed that in addition to Jesus, Moses and Muhammad would also support his health care plan.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “The size of the state budget is not an appropriate measure of social conscience or charitable concern.” Nor do new taxes to provide government-run health insurance equate to better health care, much less “healing the sick.” Consider the long waiting lists in Canada, Britain, and other countries with “universal health care;” or even the low-quality care often provided to Medicaid recipients—which is essentially what Governor Rendell wants to expand—as evidence of the difference between government health insurance and actually “healing the sick.”

But Governor Rendell isn’t just confusing health insurance with health care, or confusing government spending with altruism. He is pretending to take the moral high ground while pushing a plan backed by special interests—unions, insurance companies, and health care providers—that would likely benefit from either the new tax or new spending. At the same time, he is rejecting many reforms that would help the sick, the poor, and the middle class by reducing the cost of health care.

If Governor Rendell was being truly charitable then he would support repealing laws that force families to pay more for insurance than necessary. For example, why does he prevent citizens from buying lower-cost insurance from other states? Or, why doesn’t he repeal expensive and unnecessary mandates which drive up the cost of insurance premiums, instead of creating more?

It is hardly charitable to tax individuals for the cost of their health insurance. Yet both at the federal and state level, employer-based insurance is tax free, but individuals and families buying insurance for themselves are taxed. So why doesn’t the Governor support equalizing the tax code for those who buy insurance?

Instead, the Governor wants to impose a 3% payroll tax on all businesses in Pennsylvania. Business that provide employees with health insurance would be able to apply for credit at a later date. Of course, it will be up to government bureaucrats in Harrisburg to decide if the employer-based health insurance qualifies for the credit or not. But while Rendell suggests his payroll tax is on businesses, it is in effect a wage tax—which will be passed on as a pay cut for employees who don’t get their health insurance from their employer.

If Governor Rendell cares about the poor and the uninsured, then reforming Medicaid to improve quality and reduce dependence on government, should be among his top priorities. Giving recipients choices among competing plans, integrating Medicaid credits with private coverage, and allowing health savings accounts as an option would provide better care and would reduce the number of uninsured (as many uninsured are eligible for Medicaid, but choose not to enroll).

There are many other ways to reduce health care costs and provide quality care—by empowering the private sector rather than expanding the government sector. Pennsylvania could offer a tax credit for charitable contributions to Health Savings Accounts for low-income families. The state could begin allowing list billing, allowing companies to contribute a part of an employees insurance plan. And, of course, Pennsylvania could reform its medical malpractice laws which are driving up health care costs and reducing access to health insurance.

It would be presumptuous to claim Jesus, Moses, and Muhammad would endorse such reforms. But why doesn’t Governor Rendell? While his rhetoric expresses compassionate concern about the people of this state, his faith in bigger, more expensive government programs will increase health care costs and reduce access to quality care for many Pennsylvanians.

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Nathan A. Benefield is Director of Policy Research with the Commonwealth Foundation (, an independent, nonprofit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg.