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.