Monday, January 21, 2008

Universal Healthcare

I just read one of the best articles I have ever read about what is wrong with our healthcare system. You can read it below and I'll also include this link where I found it. It was written by Jack Legg and I found it on the BWC website. Read it and think about it:

Sanctity of Life

Jack Legg

They didn’t know what else to do, they said. Her teeth had been killing her for days. The college students volunteering at the community shelter winced in pain as the stoic woman related the story from the previous weekend at her aunt’s house.

Step one: boil a pair of needle-nose pliers on the stove. Step two: 6 shots of Crown Royal to dull the pain. Step 3: extraction. This part gets messy, so you might want to put down some newspaper under her head.

“Is it scary?” they ask.

“Yeah, it’s scary.”

But when two family members are holding you down as a third approaches you in preparation to rip the teeth from your head, there’s no turning back.

Typically, my volunteers try not to look shocked or appalled when our neighbors are sharing their life experiences, but on this occasion, their facial expressions betrayed them. I wish I had my Polaroid so I could have captured their looks of horror and disappointment and confusion. They did not understand why this woman was saying such things. Couldn’t she have gone to the dentist? Why were these people living in such deplorable conditions? They weren’t in the darkest jungles of the world, miles from civilization. They were in Ohio.

I used to make that same face my volunteers were making. I used to be just as confused as they were that day. But then, I heard stories of elderly shut-ins cutting their expensive pills in half to make them last longer, even though any doctor will tell you that tampering with the dosage does more harm than good. I met the mothers who have their babies swallow adult doses of Advil for their upset stomach because they have nothing else in the house. And the only reason they had Advil in the first place was because it was given to them by a neighbor since the local pharmacy was so expensive. I looked at the nasty scars left behind from the injuries that went untreated when families could not afford to go to a hospital. I am not trying to be sensational. These are just the people I know. They have no choice. No insurance means no options. If they go to the doctor, there will be medical bills. When one is already at poverty level, medical expenses are crippling.

Even if they have insurance, they are still likely to face hell on earth. High deductibles and endless lists of non-covered conditions or exemptions make it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a poor man to get coverage. Whether or not their medical bills are paid for depends on whether or not it is profitable for the insurance company. After all, what better way is there to make a profit than to deny the claims or your clients?

So, I told some of my Christian friends that it is time for us to consider supporting universal healthcare. When I said that, I found out something interesting. I used to think we Christians were pro-life. It turns out, we are simply anti-abortion. When I began talking about universal healthcare, you would have thought that I suggested we lynch Pat Robertson.

I am still kind of hurt and confused over the exchanges I had with some of my fellow believers. I cannot figure out how people can be so radically pro-life, yet ignore the suffering of the poor and disenfranchised. There are 47 million people without healthcare coverage in the United States, and 50 million people are under insured. They are cold and hurting and bleeding to death on a daily basis, but the majority of the church is leaving them curled up alongside the road.

Why would we be concerned? We don’t see them. We don’t have to. With so many mechanisms in place to keep ourselves comfortable, many of us can go through our whole life and never interact with them. We have the luxury of looking the other way while they puke their guts out or writhe in pain or settle for the dimebag they find in their cousin’s house to take the edge off. Interestingly enough, we’re the ones who fought so hard to bring them into this world.

But what am I talking about? It is not only the poor who are suffering. The healthcare crisis is touching people across socioeconomic boundaries. I happen to work among the poor, so I am more sensitive to their plight, but there are many middle class folks who can’t get the procedures they need because their insurance won’t cover it. Apparently, when money talks, there is no room for a second opinion. I sure am glad that the ambiguous guy in that claims office hundreds of miles away is wise enough to decide which medical procedures we need and which ones we don’t. What do those doctors know anyway?

I am sure everyone reading this has some kind of horror story about the domestic war on terrorism, as embodied by the healthcare industry. Theirs is a terrorism of exploitation, preying upon the weak and sick. Ours is a terrorism of indifference, turning a blind eye to the madness.

In 2003, a bill was introduced to Congress proposing a universal health care system. This bill, H.R. 676, has been reintroduced each session since then. Recently, this bill has gotten a lot of attention from the media, partly due to the recent release of Michael Moore’s documentary about the American healthcare system.

I have been thinking about this a lot, mainly because of the stories I keep hearing from my friends in the inner city, and I came to the conclusion that the church ought to contact our Members of the House to get their commitment to back H.R. 676, and ask our Senators to introduce a companion bill.

I know. Our Evangelical/WASP heritage tells us that socialized medicine is the biggest threat since mad cow disease. But as I told my friends, before you freak out and start yelling about losing your choice of doctor or standing in line for 97 days or having to pay a ton in taxes, at least read the bill. Our friend John Conyers in Michigan can tell you more about it
here. Representative Conyers has included a financial breakdown of the plan as well.

Now, here’s the part of the discussion where all of us are transported through time and space, back to the junior high dance. The boys gather on one side of the room, the girls gather on the other, and we all stare pensively at the ones we’ve sworn never to associate with. Universal healthcare is typically a Democrat thing, and Jesus followers are Republicans.

So, that settles that.

I refuse to make this a partisan debate, for several reasons. First of all, I kind of like to use my brain. Not to say that everyone who affiliates themselves with a political party is just succumbing to groupthink, but I do know Christians who are Republicans simply because that is what they were told they were from birth (which, by the way, only happened because the Democrats were not successful in destroying them while they were in the womb!). So, to the large percentage of Evangelicals who cling to their Republican heritage with unyielding, unquestioning loyalty, let me say this: just because you don’t like donkeys, it does not give you the right to be a jackass.

The reverse is true for you Evangelical Democrats (all three of you). Party affiliation is not an excuse to flush your brain down the toilet and make every decision with your political gag reflex. It has become far too convenient for Christians to slap a label on people and group them into teams without having to think about issues with any amount of intelligence. It is easier to beat our chest and grunt, “Us Republican good, you Democrat bad,” than to actually think through the implications of our traditional affiliations. Come on. Paris Hilton has more depth than that.

Second, it should not be about us and them anyway. Although many Christians aren’t satisfied unless they are fighting with someone, this issue in particular is deeper than a feud. Life issues transcend political party affiliation. I don’t care if you are blue or red, liberal or conservative, Obama or Huckabee. When your kid needs medical attention, what does it matter? Lest you think your bumper sticker means something, nobody cares who you are against. The world is more interested in seeing what you will stand for.

Was that blunt? I’m sorry. I have a hard time removing the emotional aspect of this discussion, so my words tend to be raw. This is not an impersonal issue to me. It is not an esoteric debate up in the clouds somewhere with hypothetical situations and imagined consequences. These are names and faces. The people I love are out there in the dark pulling out each other’s teeth with rusty tools. Aren’t we supposed to do something about that? Or is preaching the gospel at them enough?

Listen, I don’t know who you are backing in the next election. Really, I don’t care. The fact of the matter is, our healthcare system is broken. I don’t know if H.R. 676 is the answer or not. But I do know that if we are going to be pro-life, we need to look beyond the fetus. People are sick and dying and the odds are stacked against them. Insurance companies and pharmaceutical corporations are getting richer and richer at the expense of suffering families. If the prophets of old weren’t kicking it with Jesus right now, they would be rolling over in their graves. We need the church to step up, now more than ever. The world is in desperate need of theology. I don’t mean brain theology, mind you, I mean theology with hands and feet, theology that walks and talks and lives. We need more than orthodoxy. We need orthopraxy.

Despite what our preachers may tell us next Sunday, institutionalized sin is just as ugly as personal sin. We seem to forget that. The day adultery became more sinful than big business trampling the poor on their way to the bank, well, that was a sad day indeed.


Blogger Jeni said...

How many people in this country DON'T think healthcare is a major issue? Seems like every time you turn around some one is saying that it is but yet, no matter what anyone does or tries to do to find a solution to the problems of "Affordable healthcare" it seems to be more and more an unreachable entity, doesn't it?
Wouldn't socialized medicine, where everyone at least gets the care needed, WHEN it is needed to curb more illness rather than letting things linger, get out of hand until it is then an incurable illness be better than the system we have today?
I fail to understand why and how so many doctors and hospitals are willing to take cases from so many other countries and do treatments costing millions and millions but yet, for citizens of this country, all too often if you don't have cash on the line, go home, lick your wounds and often, prepare to die. I'm not against providing medical care to people from other countries - just that there are so many here who can't afford any medical care at all and who knows how much each of those could be providing in societal contributions, were they healthy functioning individuals, ya know.
That was a great post, Keith and one which is or should be, uppermost on the minds of everyone in this country today.

1:07 AM  

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