Monday, August 31, 2009

Paul Mathers on Health Care Reform

Okay. Time to talk about a hot button issue that will make everyone everywhere angry at me.

First of all, one of the glaring points I've noticed recently on this topic is that a year or so ago if I had talked about HMOs and the health care industry in America everyone, EVERYONE would have agreed that it is a messed up system. It was customary in modern American English to preface the word HMO with a obscenity. It was one of the rare unifiers in our country. Rich, poor, Republican, Democrat, covered, uncovered alike could agree that for-profit health care exploits pretty much everyone. It was screwing us all over with good old American equality. Michael Moore made a film about it and it was the first (and probably the last) thing he did that had people crossing partisan lines to hear him out over the issue. So many people know someone who have horror stories about bankruptcy, losing coverage for lung cancer because their HMO discovered they went into their doctor's office for a cough and so it was a "pre-existing condition," or other stories of that type.
I've spent most of my adult life around artists and poets which means I've spent my adult life around adults without health insurance. When I was working we could not afford to insure my wife and continue to eat and live indoors. Mind you, that was when I was working and had health insurance through my job which, you know, in theory ought to take care of its own even if, you know, they were anti-labor union. Most of you know my story of being laid off by no fault of my own.
Lately Laurie and I have had a problem with indigents sitting on the curb across the street from us and smoking crack in broad daylight while children are playing across the street (parenthetical tip for the perplexed: don't buy a house wedged between the back wall of a roach motel and an alley that leads from the soup kitchen to the homeless shelter off a major street in the poorer side of town.) Once, one of the indigents had the paramedics come and take him away, probably from an overdose. The way our country's health care system works, that man's ambulance ride and hospital visit will probably be taken care of entirely by the taxpayers. That's because he long ago chose "substance abuser" as an occupation and has absolutely no means by which to pay for his health care or anything else for that matter. He might not even ever see the Medi-Cal papers filled out with his information. I live in a house that I own (well, the bank actually owns, but I'm paying them off slowly each month) across the street and we scrape by. If I passed out on a curb (which I haven't done in years) I could not afford to go the hospital in an ambulance. It would destroy our lives. I would say we're one medical emergency away from losing everything, but actually I've pretty much resigned myself in my head to the reality that if I have a medical emergency I am going to freakin' die. Because I'm not going to spend my last moments or my recovery time watching my wife lose the house and declare bankruptcy. So, there's that. The people who are really screwed are the people who are in houses, apartments or condos in middle to lower middle class neighborhoods who are doing everything they can and should to make ends meet.
Oh, and even if a sack of money fell on us right now while I'm between jobs I could not get a private insurer to pick me up because I have the pre-existing condition of asthma. Health Insurance in America is modeled for those who don't need it.

Let me say a few of my presuppositions. I believe that the majority of the people in our government are trying to do what appears to be right and good for the people if for no other reason than that is their job and how they stay elected. Sure, they make mistakes like any humans and there is a wide variety of opinion (which is part of the beauty of our species.) They sometimes fail to foresee all of the repercussions of choices they make, just like the rest of us. And some are corrupt just like in any other position of power in the world; but mainly I think that the people in our government are trying to do what they think is best. They are trying to do good. I don't believe in conspiracy theories in general about shadowy government activity and that sort of nonsense. The sort of thing that makes Barney Frank ask which planet you live on.

And the last thing you want is for Barney Frank to ask you which planet you live on.

I think President Obama has thus far been a pretty good president, in fact one of the better ones in my lifetime. I don't agree with him about everything, but I certainly don't think he's evil or devilish or the Anti-Christ or any of that sort of foolishness which tends to make me embarrassed for the people who suggest such things. I think Christians would do much better spending their energy on spreading the Gospel and loving their neighbor than burping out that kind of absurdity at every microphone they can still manage to see through the Right wing standard issue blinders.
Now, I also don't think he's proven to be "greater than Lincoln" or anything yet, and I begin to have doubts that he'll be anything but another marginally competent president (although, since I seem to be throwing opinion spouting caution to the wind, I do think he's a bit of a cold beer on a hot night compared to his predecessor, but you can only keep that feeling up for so long before you actually have to start doing things.)
I do think there are a few fairly blatant "conspiracies" that do exist if you can call some things so blatant a conspiracy. One example would be the health care industry seeking to discredit Michael Moore's film "Sicko." I think we can all agree that that is a fairly clear conspiracy in its motives. I also think that the Republican party dupes the Christian community into whoring themselves wholesale to that party. Karl Rove has straight up admitted, and rather proudly at that, to using Christian views of homosexuality to advance his candidate even though Rove himself did not share those views. In other words, he used mainstream Christianity's beliefs to get what he wanted. This was a great point of pride in the two presidential campaigns he designed.
I also think that a good deal of opposition to health care reform comes directly from the health care industries that stand to gain from such reforms failing. Quo Vadis?

I am not a Republican nor do I consider myself a Democrat save that that's the party with which I found I could just barely stomach registering as without vomiting. Politically speaking, I consider myself as rabidly pro-science and arts with a predominately Quaker sense of social values. Quaker like Lucretia Mott, not like Richard Nixon. In short, I try to take the Fruit of the Spirit and the Sermon on the Mount with me to the voting booth as an individual American citizen and I do no attach a political party to my soul. Or to my brain for that matter.

I've heard Christians say some pretty disgusting and disturbing things in this debate. I read a professing Christian online who said that most of the people without health care are illegal immigrants anyway as an argument as to why we shouldn't provide health care as a nation. First of all, Laurie and I are hard working natives to this country and neither of us are insured. Second, in spite of what Lou Dobbs may tell you, I assure you that illegal immigrants are human beings created in the image of God, your earthly brothers and people in poor and desperate circumstances which we as Christians are commanded to seek to relieve.
And here's the rub of that. I've also heard Christians say that the church ought to see to the poor and their needs and the government stick to whatever it is they do. On Saturday, Laurie and I went to a benefit dinner for a drug rehab work program/halfway house here in Chico. They do good work and their restaurant (The Well Experience which both benefits the cause and employs people in their program) is one of the best restaurants in the county. I sat next to a man in a wheelchair. I don't know what happened to him, I didn't think it would be polite to ask, but he was severely crippled. But I do know that he was a brother in Christ. He had accrued in the course of his disability a million dollars worth of medical bills and the man was probably in a similar financial class to my own which is to say a million dollars may as well be a billion dollars because both are an amount that we will never have at our disposal. The church rushed to his aid, put on a huge benefit, people from all of the county, some complete strangers, all pulled together and with this great and touching effort were able to raise... $11,000. Which is a bit like making a full pot of coffee and drinking one shot glass worth. The Church in general does not have the means to see to the medical bills of the congregation much less the collected poor of the nation.

So we have taxes which pay for services that we all enjoy like socialized police protection, socialized fire departments, socialized libraries, socialized education, a socialized military. Yeah, you get the joke I'm making. Christians ought to be the loudest advocates of using our tax dollars for the relief of the poor because, as I said above, the church is just not going to cut it. I would remind my Christian readers that The Good Samaritan paid for the health care of the beaten man. While I think a lot of Christians ought to be ashamed of themselves for leaving their Christianity at the door with this issue, I really would rather suggest simply that Christians ought to be enthusiastic about providing for everyone in any way they can and in any way that is feasible/plausible/realizable. As an uninsured man with an uninsured wife, I find so many Christian arguments against health care to echo James' hypothetical brother who says "be warmed and filled" but does not provide what is needed by the needy. A good deal of Jesus' ministry comprised health care, if you will, or more accurately the relief of temporal suffering.

You do realize that there are earnest and truly converted Christians in countries in the world right now where they don't have The Republican Party. There were earnest and saved Christians a millennium before the foundation of the American Republican Party. You do realize that there will be Socialists in Heaven, don't you? Actually, do bear in mind that when one looks at the numbers in history it would suggest that the bulk of the population of Heaven at this point will be monarchists. How alien is that to us in modern America! In short, modern conservative democratic capitalism for all of its genuinely good points in the proper places is not Christian or un-Christian in and of itself. I would highly encourage everyone, myself definitely included, to be ever vigilant and oh so careful to never confuse their political affiliation with their spiritual walk.
However, this is a spiritual matter, as are all of our actions as Christians! I would advise all Christians to not blow their witness to the suffering individuals in our country in favor of the privilege of parroting the rhetoric of the screaming heads on the major cable networks whose television shows are interrupted by the quarter hour with advertisements for prescription medications.

And another thing, almost all of my artist friends have no health care. I have one who has excellent health care because they retain citizenship in their native Canada and will travel there if they have health care needs. I keep hearing the cry of "just ask a Brit or a Canadian what they think of their health care." I took that challenge and we have talked to dozens. They all love their health care system.
Which is not to say that I think any specific system is the cure all/flawless system. I've heard some of the pros and cons of Germany's, Britian's, Canada's and France's (although the latter seems to have surprisingly few complaints considering the source) and I'm not sure which model or amalgam of those models would suit our country. But I wholeheartedly feel that reform is the necessary and the compassionate road to take. As well as the enlightened one.
I'm not a socialist, but I also grew up after the knee-jerk hatred of anything that smells vaguely Red. I remember a Bible study several years (and several churches) ago where we read the portion in Acts about the early church pooling their resources and giving to each according to their needs. One clean-cut young man objected loudly to the pastor in the middle of the scripture reading saying "But.. but that's communism!" And I thought, "Okay, pastor, drop a train on him. Talk about compassion and brotherhood." No. The pastor talked about how that was cultural and how it's okay to hoard wealth and possessions because the Needle's Eye was actually a gate in Jerusalem where the camels had to crouch a little to get through. And the young man went away pleased because he had great possessions.
I like a lot of elements of capitalism and think that it works very well (except when greedy practices by banks, mortgage lenders and real estate agents crash the economy) in private industry. But I don't think everything everywhere would benefit from privatization. My gosh, no.

I would also suggest that ones who place their faith in Holy Scripture are already admitting at the start that sinners require governing.

Returning to the topic of politicians though, don't think I have high hopes for said reform either. Every few presidents get the bug to be the great hero of American history who brings us into the golden age of being a great society which provides health care for everyone within their borders. Then they fail miserably. They fail because another of the seemingly endless line of demons that Nixon let free on our land is the HMO and that demon will not lay down for a second. Ted Kennedy's death might actually help (I doubt anyone could make an argument that Ted Kennedy didn't want universal health care and a "let's do it for Teddy" campaign might work.) But ultimately here is my prediction:
President Obama will buckle to pressure and compromise to some half-hearted and impotent public option OR rather than reforming the system there will be a push to outlaw dropping the insured for pre-existing conditions and other lugubrious HMO practices. And in seven years when Obama prepares to leave the White House me and people like me will find ourselves much in the same health care situation we're in today.
What I would like to see is the people of Earth to rise as a species and seek to wipe out poverty and illness in all people regardless of race, geography, political affiliation or religion.

I would also like a pony and a castle made of lemon drops.

1 comment:

  1. P.S. everyone, it continues. I just read a professing Christian arguing that we ought not reform health care because too much access to health care would increase the population beyond our means. Put another way, difficulties in obtaining health care decreases the surplus population.
    "But, Uncle Ebeneezer, it's Christmas!"

    I'm not kidding by the way. A professing Christian in America just made that argument.