Saturday, August 15, 2009

What We're Not (But Could Be) Saying about Health Care

When I recognize with no small amount of disappointment that the public option, if enacted, won't begin until 2013, then I recognize that I and many other people will have to deal with the ridiculous rules and restrictions governing our only current public option. For those who are under retirement age or disabled for less than two years, Medicaid is the only health care system by which the poor and disabled receive coverage. Frequently underfunded, dictated by draconian rules which frequently disqualify needy people, and subsidized with great reluctance by many (red) states, by I find it exceptionally ironic that the very Republicans and right-wingers now pushing back against any semblance of reform, while claiming to be honest-to-God Christians seem to have forgotten this passage of scripture.

"For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'

In Washington, DC, where I have spent much time recently, I made a point to look at the benefits provided those who qualify for the District's Medicaid program. In big, bold, almost bragging terms, the extensive .pdf file stating all the particulars of the program asserted proudly that dentistry was covered, noting that this placed their program it in great contrast to Medicaid coverage in other states. What was not mentioned, however, was the reason why the District's program provided dental coverage to all. Once, not so very long ago, dentistry was not offered. Five years or so prior, a boy got an abscessed tooth, the family didn't have the money to make sure that it was treated properly or at all, and the child died as a result. Nothing like bad publicity to put in action the things we really should have been doing in the first place.

I had two instantaneous responses upon hearing this tragic story. One was from the Gospel of Matthew.

Then some people brought little children to Jesus to have him bless them and pray for them. But the disciples told the people not to do that.

Jesus, however, said, "Let the little children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these."

The second was from Robert Penn Warren's opus All The King's Men. Willie Stark was a Louisiana politician loosely based on Huey Long who began with noble intentions, but later became heavily corrupt in the process. The incident which brought him to power is noted below in this summary from another source.

While Willie was Mason County Treasurer, he became embroiled in a controversy over the building contract for the new school. The head of the city council awarded the contract to the business partner of one of his relatives, no doubt receiving a healthy kickback for doing so. The political machine attempted to run this contract over Willie, but Willie insisted that the contract be awarded to the lowest bidder. The local big-shots responded by spreading the story that the lowest bidder would import black labor to construct the building, and, Mason County being redneck country, the people sided against Willie, who was trounced in the next election. Jack Burden covered all this in the Chronicle, which sided with Willie.

Then one day during a fire drill at the new school, a fire escape collapsed due to faulty construction and three students died. At the funeral, one of the bereaved fathers stood by Willie and cried aloud that he had been punished for voting against an honest man. After that, Willie was a local hero.

In Alabama, where I have residency at the moment, dentistry and some mental health coverage is extended only to children and those under the age of twenty-one. It is, of course, denied to those over that age. Part of the reason is that this red state is reluctant to raise a sufficient amount of tax revenue to fully fund these options for all. Part of the reason is that people feel sorry for children. Pardon my boldness, but I think that's an absolutely horrible, inhumane justification employed to extend coverage. Even criminals have a soft spot in their heart for children. Anyone can feel sorry for a child because children are innocent, trusting, and vulnerable. Indeed, it is very easy to sympathize and have pity for children.

If you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don't they?

Are you doing anything remarkable if you welcome only your friends? Everyone does that!

Why don't we extend this same compassion for adults? Are we saying that we can be heartless to adults but not to children? Though it is an unforgivable travesty when a child dies of a totally avoidable medical condition, do we somehow think that if an adult dies of the same malady then we somehow aren't obligated to feel morally responsible? Would we say that he or she had plenty of options and didn't use them? Would we say they were probably cheating the system already and it serves him or her right? How simultaneously merciless and creative are we when we rationalize our refusal to act on behalf of those less fortunate than ourselves.

As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians,

Brothers, stop being childish in your thinking. Be like infants with respect to evil, but think like adults.

At the town hall forums I've see, I recognize quite a bit of childishness behavior in both thinking and in behavior. The wingnuts certainly reflect this, but those who push and shove and threaten to fight others for daring to express their own opinions are no better than they. And often every word I hear reflects a selfish desire to have it precisely they way I think it ought to be. We seem to think we're entitled to the best system in the world without having to pay for it, restrict our bad habits, and especially not to have to to wait very long for an appointment when we need medical care.

Jesus said,

Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.

Faith is not blind trust. Faith has reason behind it, but if we are so consumed to our own reservations, our own fears, and our own selfish worst-case-scenarios that we cannot entertain success or, for that matter, salvation, then we will never reach it. What has all of our intellectualizing gotten us in the end? After all, one can rationalize fascism if one so chooses. The human brain is very good at all kinds of mental games. And if the Kingdom of God is within us, what does it say about who we are? What does it say about what we can do for others who need what we can provide?

1 comment:

Karlo said...

When people say the U.S. is a Christian nation, they can't be thinking of the Sermon on the Mount. For that matter, I don't really know what part of the conservative program is supposed to be Christian in any sense of the word. Good post!