When you need it most

Posted: July 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Having recently become a serious consumer of health care I’ve begun to notice realities formerly hidden from view, at least my view. Of course, as a pastor, I’m around health care institutions and people receiving treatment all the time. It is part of my normal. But certain revelations come only when you are sitting in the receiver’s role.

For one, we have been blessed to receive health care of a superior nature. Not all do.  Nor do they have access to such. When it comes to 3rd world, 2nd world realities, I’ve witnessed that up close and personal. I know the difference. I remember being in a small little village in Ecuador when a peasant approached us and pleaded with us to come to his shack to visit his teenaged daughter. When we entered the dirt floor shack we discovered her laying on a pallet in obvious pain surrounded by loved ones. They uncovered the blanket to reveal what was an enormous tumor on her leg. Our doctor looked at me and shook his head; there was nothing to do. The only thing we could do was obtain morphine and provide the most minimal palliative care. Her father invited me to return to that same shack to read the 23rd Psalm and pray following her death a few days later. No, she did not have access to medical care, the kind that early intervention could have helped. It wasn’t there.

But when I say that not all people have access I’m not only referring to the 3rd world. The discrepancy is right here.

As we receive top drawer medical attention I am hyper-aware of the 30 million or so Americans who have no medical insurance. Let me tell you, I’ve been looking at those bills as they’ve come in and our modest co-pays. The amounts are staggering for the diagnostics alone. And those costs are merited. We have the most sophisticated medical system in the world. It’s expensive because that level of care – and all the research and infrastructure that makes it possible – is expensive. It just is. And who would want less?

I look at those bills and consider a person without medical insurance. There is an impossibility of paying for such care, especially if you are a person of modest means. And what that means is that the system rations that very carefully for you, the uninsured, precisely because you can’t pay for it. Certain tests are passed by. Shortcuts are taken. And your care – for the poor or uninsured – becomes minimal care, usually without preventive dimensions present at all. When the emergency room is your provider it’s always crisis care, and expensive to the hospital and public. It’s the worst possible solution.

We have friends who have been downsized from their jobs and then lost their health care simultaneously. Sure, with a Cobra they extend coverage for a while – but at an astronomical rate. Who can pay for that when you’ve lost your job anyway?

And we’ve considered what it would be like for Kathy – now with a preexisting condition – to somehow lose our insurance and then be faced with being excluded from future coverage for that very reason, at her time of greatest need. We could buy coverage at an inflated rate or none at all. Would we take short cuts to afford it? Probably. Or they would be made for us.

It seems to me that I, from a privileged position of having access to outstanding health care, would be on morally shaky ground if I were to suggest that it’s just fine for others not to have it when I do. And the measure of a just and compassionate society, it seems to me, is to make that happen. There are many ways to skin the health care cat, I know. But turning a blind eye to the problems is not acceptable, especially for those of us who know that we stand before a righteous and merciful God.

  1. Jane McGuire says:

    Amen to that!

  2. Laura W says:

    Couldn’t agree more! As an advocate for one of my family members who lost their job and health insurance all in the midst of massive health issues, I’ve run the gamut in obtaining help for them. It is a daunting experience to manuever and the agencies don’t make it easy at all, changing threshold amounts and applying formulas that even the most educated have trouble understanding.

    Your comments today only reinforce what I ask myself over and over, what do people do who don’t have strong advocates? Well, we know what they do… they live on the street or in shelters, they spend hours and hours at emergency rooms, and they go without many of life’s necessities, up to and including food and health care that most of us take for granted. And you are so correct – it’s not just 3rd world countries – it’s here.. right here in our own backyard. This is one of the reasons why I applaud the expansion of healthcare for the millions that don’t have it, those less fortunate than us, and ensuring that those with pre-existing conditions can get affordable health insurance, and the ability for young adults to stay on their parents insurance through age 26.

  3. katherine kinnamon says:

    I know this is a real worry for me, my kids, my friends and relatives. Yes, most of my sphere have adequate, more than adequate or wonderful coverage. But in the churches I have served, in the neighborhoods I have lived in, staff with whom I have worked, this is not always the case for many who cross my path. I have been listening to reports on the international AIDS conference these past days, and the arguments made for the number of ways the new and life-promising drug therapies could be funded, not just for those of us in US, but everywhere AIDS is devastating generations. Will it happen? We will see how committed world, national and local leadership is when it comes to taxing some of our favorite indulgences/luxuries.

  4. N Miller says:

    Heartbreaking and true–Jessie’s babysitter called her recently in the middle of the day because her blood pressure shot up to 202/118–she wanted to go to the ER, but ended up staying home because she has no insurance.

    It’s not enough to think that we in the top health care tier are lucky; of course we are.  But issues of justice and mcercy have to be a bigger part of our fabric if we are to stay connected to the God of us all.

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