23 July 2009
Universal Health Care: Let's Be Honest, Shall We?
Yesterday's mail edition of Newsweek featured this cover article by Sen. Edward Kennedy. If you're not a subscriber, it's worth a look anyway.
Our elected officials are engaged in a very acrimonious debate on health care, health insurance and the future of American medicine at the moment. President Obama wants something on the table prior to the August recess, while some are suggesting we shouldn't rush things.
For me, one troubling aspect of the entire debate is the way terms get thrown around with little care for how they are defined. The words "medical," "care," "health" and "insurance" seem to be interchangeable, while they actually describe very different things depending on how they are paired and how they are used. "Health Care" and "Health Insurance" are two very different things: the first describes an actual interaction with a medical professional, while the second describes a company or government program whereby the professional is guaranteed compensation for services provided, and the patient generally bears a portion of the cost in addition to a base premium surrendered monthly, quarterly or annually. You can see the problem when the two start getting tossed around as if they are the same thing.
In a professional sense, I'm fairly un-qualified to weigh in on this issue. I'm certainly not a businessman, nor am I a health care professional. What little mental health care I'm qualified to provide falls under the umbrella of spiritual care: the nano-second I sense that we might be drifting into illness, I refer to a qualified professional, as I am NOT a mental health counselor. In an ethical sense, however, we are all qualified to weigh in, as we, the American people, are the ones who are and will be affected by the ongoing discussion of medicine in America. And I dare say that those of us who serve in the pastoral office are called to be advocates when we feel ethically driven toward a certain point of view.
So, it seems to me that as a country we have one basic choice in front of us. The time has come for a decision about medicine in America: is it primarily a for-profit business or a social service? We are rapidly approaching the point when we will no longer be allowed to waffle between the two extremes, and for me, at least, the decision is obvious: medical care is a social service that must be guaranteed to all Americans. Period.
I'm not saying this is going to be easy. But when an estimated 47 million people can't get medical care for real illness and medical problems, easy has long since left the barn. To my mind, we have an ethical imperative to guarantee reasonable access to affordable medical services, and I, for one, am willing to do my part to see that it happens.
Taxes will need to be raised. That's a given. Medical profits will be cut. Also a given. Insurance companies may find themselves competing against the government. Some insurance companies might go bankrupt. We'll need to transition out of employer-based insurance, which was a bad idea from the start and has only become worse with time. All of these are real repercussions of shifting the model from profit-bearing to service-providing, and it might be bad before it gets better.
But the alternative is worse, in my opinion. Some estimate that 55 million Americans will be without health insurance in the very near future if we do nothing. That, to me, is an unconscionably high percentage of the American population with no hope of cure when illness strikes. That's 55 million Americans who can't get their infant daughters to the doctor when they have an ear infection, like our Alanna had last month. That's 55 million Americans who can't find respite from back pain, as I have this summer. That's 55 million Americans who can't escape the clutches of depression, as I have over the past three years. Can we really think this is the better solution?
The total cost of the medical care required for the births of our daughters, Ainsley and Alanna, was in the neighborhood of $32,000. That's approximately 90% of my yearly cash salary. Health insurance covered most of the cost for us - what are the options for mothers who don't have insurance?
The time has come for a renovation of American medicine. No renovation comes without sacrifice, struggle, and moments when the damage done seems to outweigh the possible end result. But the present situation is a house of cards teetering on the verge of collapse. We have an ethical and moral imperative to do better for our society - let's speak the truth and get it done.
Grace & peace,