Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chiming in the Debate

What is wrong with the world that we live in today? What has happened to this culture that grown men and women think that it is acceptable to yell, “BOO” and shout out “LIAR!” in the middle of an overly crowded town hall meeting? Grown men and women behaving like rotten, rebellious, teenagers. Truly disgraceful behavior.

Last night I attended such a town hall meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to have an open dialogue with our local Congresswoman about the proposed health care reform. But the anger and fear of many turned a diplomatic forum into a display of completely uncouth, rowdy juveniles clothed in the bodies of middle to late age retired veterans depending daily on government-run healthcare called Medicare. The hall was filled with an over-representation of older, retired folks who had been forming a line to enter for 4 hours prior to the beginning of the event, while the rest of the attendees watched on big screens outside the hall because they were not able to show up until just before opening due to the second or third job they were working to be able to afford health insurance for their family.

The former Surgeon General of the United States stood before this passionately noisy, and often rude, crowd and spoke about the desperate need for reform, about the unsustainability of the current system, and about the already high price tags of health insurances premiums that will continue to rise all too quickly. All the while this ridiculous crowd of grown adults booed and hollered as if rude rebellion is an acceptable standard. One of the men lucky enough to have his ticket called by lottery to be able to ask the Congresswoman a question, boldly proclaimed, “85% in this nation today have access to healthcare. Isn’t that enough? Why do we need to fix a system that isn’t broken?”



Is that all we’re shooting for? Clearly that man has never been part of the 15%. I am eternally grateful that God’s numbers and merciful economy do not work like that.

Remember the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18-19. Abraham pleaded with God to not destroy the cities, testing the depth of God’s mercy. Abraham starts off by asking, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?”

The Lord replies that He will spare the whole place for the sake of fifty righteous.

Abraham continues with the questions until he reaches 10. He says, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

He answered, “For the sake of 10, I will not destroy it.”

Even just for 10 righteous, mercy will be shown to all. Much better economics than shooing off the unfortunate 15% simply because the privileged 85% are getting their needs met. They’ve got theirs; who cares about the rest?

How did this culture become so selfish, so egocentric? The woman who was sitting next to my father at this town hall meeting is currently receiving Medicare benefits but is not yet 65. She actually said to my father that she didn’t want him to receive the same Medicare benefits that she currently receives because it might take away from her benefits. Seriously? I’ve seen that same attitude in my 2-year-old who has not yet learned how to share. But in a 2-year-old, we quickly correct such selfish behavior. What do we do with it in a well-aged woman? Have we lost touch with mercy and compassion altogether?

I have heard many people say that all this talk of health care reform just seems to be happening so fast. That statement can only come from someone who has access to healthcare. They have options, so what do they care about rushing to change anything? They don’t seem to understand the urgency that comes with having no options and no access. Imagine having a sick child and not being able to do anything about it. Imagine having a parent, who has no insurance, walking around on a broken toe for months because he can’t afford to seek treatment. Imagine getting a simple infection and not being able to seek treatment.

I have heard many balk at the number of 46 million uninsured, saying that the number is not a true representation. Seriously? Isn’t that splitting hairs? Are we going to make that the issue? Are there 30 million uninsured? Are there 10 million uninsured? Are there 5 million uninsured? Isn’t that 5 million too many? I think that the number is easy to hide behind, keeping it impersonal and distant. But I have a face, and a name, and a husband and three precious girls, and we have no insurance. I have a family member who has a great job, but still cannot afford health insurance for his family. He just recently got a second job to pay for it. So he works all week to pay the bills, and all weekend to pay for health insurance. That is wrong. The system is broken and in need of desperate repair.

The irony for us is that we work so hard to see that villages across Africa have access to healthcare, yet here in our own country we just cannot afford it. And should something happen, as in a trip to urgent care this past weekend, we get to choose which budget that money comes out of…groceries or bills? And don’t get me wrong. We are not living outside of our means. We live QUITE frugally, and pass any extra on to others who have less than us. So, yes, for us, there is most definitely a sense of urgency.

Proverbs 3:27-28 says, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow’- when you now have it with you.”

It reminds me of the story that Jesus told of the Good Samaritan, who stopped, allowing himself to be inconvenienced, in order to help a man whom has been beaten and robbed. The beaten man had already been passed up by two religious leaders who just simply could not be bothered to help him. This Samaritan, though, carried the beaten man to lodging, saw that he was cleaned up and taken care of, and then paid his bill. The Samaritan withheld nothing, but gave of what he had to see that the man was properly taken care of.

We are talking about compassion and mercy here. For those who know Christ, this should strike such a heart chord! Christ called us to care for the sick, to have mercy on others. When Jesus was teaching on the Mount of Olives, he said:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes, and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

Isn’t it time to get on the side of compassion? Isn’t it time to set aside notions of selfish conveniences and look to the good and care of the whole, including those who don’t have? What if we, as a body of Christ, were united for the sake of mercy to the uninsured, and I’m not even referring to myself, but to the body as a whole? Why is everyone so angry about the possibility of universal coverage? Because it will inconvenience you? Because you will get less quality than what you have now? Imagine life on the other side.

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  1. As one who lived for several years without insurance, I understand the tension of not having it.

    However, from what I've seen, the system is broken in a ton of places. It's not just insurance companies; it's the whole medical world and the culture we live within that are all piling together to create the huge costs that we see now. I have yet to see a plan--from anyone--that actually addresses the issues in all of these areas in a way that even begins to make sense.

    But, yes: There are definitely problems. May those working on solving them have wisdom and grace as they move forward.


  2. I feel very differently about this than it looks like you do (I've not read the entire post)

    I agree we need to be kind to one another as we discuss this issue and I *do* feel so sad for those with out insurance.

    But I think there is just as much sin in not thinking clearly through a HUGE, FINANCIAL decision. NO ONE has read that bill and that is plain irresponsible, no matter what side of the aisle someone is on.

    I love your heart. I just disagree with your position.

  3. Shauna,

    I am totally with yout that the current system is not adequate and needs what extent is obviously the debate. However, I find it odd that you would say that it is "unfair" that someone should have to work two jobs to pay for health insurance. There are many families in which the husband works two jobs so his wife can stay home with the kids or single moms working two jobs to pay the rent or utilities or daycare. I admire those people because they are not saying "it's not fair" they are being proactive!

    I think that as we all strive for a better system, everyone can get creative with their own circumstances and work within the system we currently have. To say that the un/under insured have NO access to healthcare is just not true. Emergency rooms are filled with uninsured people who get treated. You can go to CVS and get a flu shot for $30 if you have no insurance. I'm not saying that for some that wouldn't be a sacrifice, but how many people have cable or smart phones and no insurance?

    As you know, my family does have insurance...government insurance. That does not make me complacent because veterans benefits get cut all the time. We are actively saving for that "rainy day" that will inevitably come.

    Just my two cents.


  4. Well written, Shawna, and passionate. You do have a much larger world view than most who weigh in--loudly, rudely, angrily--on this debate. And I share that view, to a more limited extent, as I have not been where you have been. But I have special interests in some children in developing nations, and I know that they would be without medical care, without some very compassionate folks.

    I had several thoughts, as I read through your post, and I can't even remember them all, now...nor would listing them even be appropriate. One is in answer to you question of when or how this society became so selfish, at the individual level. I've been around long enough to have seen the change, and I can tell you the federal government over all the years has to bear a lot of responsibility. Federal leaders, in the White House and in Congress, created this monster of entitlement. With entitlement comes greed and an unwillingness to share.

    As for the older, retired folks, they have worked a lot of years and thought they could count on the systems in place to take care of them.
    You seemed to think that these folks are comfortable on Medicare, but there is so much that Medicare does not cover--less and less, in fact. And when Medicare does pay, it pays less and less to the doctors. Folks who are on Medicare typically have to pay for supplemental insurance, as well.

    Still, Medicare is all some people have, and it is a Godsend to them. But it is neither inexpensive nor efficiently run.

    All of this has come down when so many of us have spent more than a year watching our retirement income shrink badly. Our own retirement has probably been put off by two, three or more years, and my husband will be 70, next year.

    And we don't want to lose our doctor. Will we? Who knows? Facts are so hard to come by, with all the screeching, slippery-slope accusations, and the denials that are not backed up with substantive information. On the other hand, substantive information is not going to get out where we can hear it, when angry people shout down speakers and call them names.

    Clearly, much is wrong with our healthcare system. Costs continue to skyrocket, but so do expensive diagnostic procedures and treatments, without which many people would be unable to heal from serious injuries or regain some semblance of the life they previously had. I would feel much better about a Congress and President who were willing to take the time and the care to fix what is broken and not to create massive change for the sake of change. Throwing out what is good, if that happens, in order to re-create the wheel, would be counterproductive, or worse.

  5. There are currently 12 bills before the house and senate, not one. Each body will continue to work until they can produce one they approve and then submit it to the other house. A committee formed with members from both the house and the senate will then meet to iron out the differences in the 2 remaining bills. Once that is done, it will be submitted to the President for signature.
    Yes, lots of people have read every word in every bill. Most have focused only one bill, HR3200.
    In truth, this idea has been discussed in one form or another since 1912, again in the mid 30's, 1946, 1964 and 1994.In 1915 universal health care would bring Kaiser's german troops into Washington DC. In the 30s it was going to be Hitler's troops. In 1946 communism,1963 the soviet union and in 1994 and today it is socialism. And in all those times, fear won.
    Is fear from God? You decide but I will tell you that 365 times He tells us not to be afraid, fearful or anxious. Much of this debate is being framed by fear. Look at the torrent of emails flooding your inbox with incorrect misleading information. Even today is loaded with erronous emails from both sides. Isn't lying a sin?

    Is health care in America a privilege for those that can afford it or have the better job? Or is it a right that should be extended to everyone. Of all the 'developed countries on the planet, only the US does not offer care to all its citizens.

    Just my thoughts

  6. Why hasn't this become a debate in the christian community about what is moral about health care. We get very concerned about abortion rights. How does that differ from health care rights?

  7. Wow,
    Thanks for engaging in the conversation, y'all. Agree, disagree, we remain united.
    There are a couple of points that I would like to address, though.
    I did not say that it is unfair that someone should have to work two jobs. I said that it is wrong, and I will stand by that. It is wrong for a well-educated person working a good-paying job to have to work 2 jobs to be able to afford health care coverage. My word usage of unfair is reserved for very different situations altogether. Unfair is how disproportionate the world's resources seem to be, how such a small percentage in this world have above and beyond their measure of abundance, and how so many others around the world received nothing at all. Unfair is the big, squishy, comfy beds that we will all sleep on tonight, while our brothers and sisters will sleep on a mat on the floor, sharing one blanket between four people. There is much that is unfair in this world.
    You are right that emergency rooms are filled with the uninsured. For those who qualify for ACCHS, you will pay their tab in your taxes. Often times, it would have been much cheaper and much wiser for them to be seen in a clinic with a primary care physician, but they don't have health insurance, so the emergency room is their only access. Again, you and I will pay their tab. For those who do not qualify for ACCHS, they will either be paying off their medical bills for years to come, or they will simply declare bankruptcy and move on. Again, you and I will pay that tab as well. According to an article published in the American Journal of Medicine, 62.1% of all bankruptcies in 2007 were due to medical bills. That's a 49.6% increase from 2001. In 1981, that number was only 8%. Imagine what it is today.
    Yes, we can go to CVS pharmacy to get a $30 flu shot, but what about the ear infections in between flu shots? what about the sinus infection or the flu that the shot didn't cover? While I thoroughly agree with preventative medicine, it cannot protect against all things. What about the well baby checks and immunizations in between? What about the vomiting episodes or all the other little sicknesses and breakdowns that happen in between a yearly flu shot at CVS?
    There will always be some who take advantage of the system, no matter what system is in place. But it is wrong to judge those without health insurance because they have cable or a smart phone. Those costs are not up for comparison, and it implies that they are without health insurance due to their own negligence or irresponsibility. That's a hefty claim and broad generalization to make.
    Health insurance for my family of 5 would cost around $350-$500 a month, with very costly co-pays. We don't have cable, but I know that cable would only cost us another $50 a month. Apples to oranges. Health insurance for my parents with pre-existing conditions would cost at least $1000/month. Even in Africa we have better coverage than that!
    Thanks for staying in the conversation. By challenging and being challenged, we will all learn from each other.


Thoughts? Feel welcome to share...