"Injustice in Health Care is the Most Shocking and Inhumane:" MLK, Jr., Soteria, and the Push to Repeal Health Care
Today I’m posting something a bit out-of-the ordinary for what I’ve typically done with OMG.
It’s the text of a speech I made at a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 18th, sponsored by the South Dakota Democrats and the South Dakota wing of Organizing for America, the morphed body of Obama for America Supporters.
The issue at hand is the threatened repeal of the health care legislation passed 2010. As you’ll read, the matter is very dear to my heart for a number of reasons.
I fully realize that many folks who follow OMG are Republicans, or perhaps Democrats who support the repeal.
I do not mean to offend you. I do mean to show, however, two things:
1. One’s faith commitments make a difference in one’s politics.
2. Although people on the political right tend to invoke God more than people on the political left, I want to show that it is possible to be a progressive Democrat and a Christian.
Some might think that my overt political opinions might cloud my ability to be theologically open-minded and fair to those who differ: this is one reason why pastors are often discouraged from being open about their voting preferences.
Feminist that I am, I figure that we all have a bias. Might as well be forthright about it, and then you don’t have to guess what it is!
So, here is my speech, my objection to the Republican agenda to repeal the Health Care Legislation:
Yesterday, our nation remembered Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In March 1966, King, this man whom we recognize because he had a habit of speaking difficult and dangerous truth—not to mention transforming our social justice landscape—gave a speech to the Second National Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in Chicago. There he said:
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
And yet, here we sit, 55 years later, having just a year ago moved closer to his vision of health care equality, and yet some awfully powerful people want to bring us back to 1966.
I’m so grateful that Amanda Mack invited me to participate in this press conference, because the matter of health care is a big deal in my world. It’s a big deal for me as a woman who has benefited powerfully from the German health care system—one far more progressive than the one now in place threatened with repeal; it’s a big deal for me as a mother with a child who suffered a traumatic brain injury (now known as a “pre-existing condition”); and it’s a big deal for me as a Christian theologian.
So about that German health care system.
In 2004, tragedy struck my family right when we were gearing up to return to the US after a five-year stint in Regensburg, Germany. We had been there while I worked on my Ph.D. Completed, we were one month away from signing for a home here in Sioux Falls. It was then that my husband and son were hit by a car as they crossed a street.
My husband died five hours later, and my sweetest boy Karl suffered a traumatic brain injury, a trauma so severe that many doctors essentially guaranteed that if he didn’t die, he would be non-communicative for the rest of his life.
Still, the German system didn’t give up on him.
Karl was in ICU for six weeks, and then transported by ambulance to a rehab center in the Alps, where he stayed for another six weeks.
Over the course of those three months, the invoice I would have received would have included three ambulance rides; the intense care for my late husband before he died; truly countless surgeries for my son including the removal of his skull, the freezing of his skull, and the reinsertion of his skull, as well as the insertion of catheters and feeding tubes; MRIs and C-Ts; occupational, physical, and speech therapy; and daily food for my family.
For all of that medical, therapeutic, familial care and more, I paid at most $100 out-of-pocket.
In Germany, you see, not to mention in the health care systems of most every other industrialized nation, health care is bound up with the benefit of being human.
In this country, it has been—and still is, to a significant degree—bound up with the benefit of being employed.
Even post- health care legislation, employment does not guarantee that one has enough coverage, and our system doesn’t recognize that the care of the chronically ill involves much more than health care alone.
Up until 2007, I was employed full-time as a professor. But the stress of the tragedy, not to mention the continuing pressure and chaos of the life of a single parent (with one child who had special needs, the other who had her own special needs as a small, small child) was clearly taking its toll. Nothing is more important to me than my two children, and I knew that they needed me more than I was able to be present. Yet my teaching position in this country was also bound up in health insurance. And so I found myself choosing for a long time between being centered and present for my children, and providing health care—most pressingly for Karl—and necessary income for them.
This terrible choice never presented itself to my German friends who had suffered a similar tragedy with their three-year-old daughter. Instead, the German government recognized that by communally supporting those who suffer, the entire society benefits, the benevolent action radiating from the collective commitment to take care of those with medical need.
So as I considered my options, the worry about the limitations of pre-existing conditions and life-time caps was crushing.
These issues still concern me, as I—along with so many other parents and partners to loved ones—now sit on the edge of our seats worrying that the Republican push to repeal health care will threaten yet again our assurance that regardless of when the illness or injury occurred, or the nature of the illness or injury, we will know that we need not choose between financial security and care for our beloveds.
In Karl’s unique case, receiving a traumatic brain injury at three weeks before one turns three makes it impossible to not meet lifetime caps, let alone get around the pre-existing condition clause; that is, when an illness or injury gets you as at the beginning of your life, of when you exist, “lifetime” is a long, long time, and the balance of everything that occurs for the remainder of your days is “pre-existing.”
Now, speaking as a Christian theologian, the Republican push to repeal this literally life-giving legislation offends the integrity of my understanding of who Christians are called to be.
Let me be clear: by no means am I assuming that we are a nation that ought to be governed exclusively by Christian principles.
That said, I am aware that many people who advocate for the repeal of this health care law are Christians, and I would like to make a case using a different set of Christian lenses to show that there is another way of thinking though this.
The Greek word soteria is translated as “salvation,” which in the Greek in point of fact means “health, healing, and wholeness.” The current effort to dismantle the major advances made in the recent health care legislation stands in radical opposition to this biblical ideal; an ideal clearly present in both the Old and New Testaments, and prophesied, proclaimed, and enacted as a key mark of the reign of God extended to all people—not just those with jobs! In fact, one could argue that the biblical agenda is that soteria ought to be offered precisely to those without jobs.
The Republican push to repeal also simply stands in radical opposition to the most basic needs of the American people.
In light of this, it is remarkable that this week of all weeks, yesterday’s commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. barely in our rear view mirror, the Republicans continue to try to reverse the health care legislation.
Simultaneously, of course, they reject the prophetic words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
Anna, I support you in everything you say! And to you Republicans out there, I would be more sympathetic if I felt that you were making an honest effort to improve healthcare but too just walk away and ignore the problems is inexcusable.
Thanks, Auntie Norma! I think that there is indeed a real issue of ensuring that if the repeal does go through, those who support it have another ready and viable alternative present to address the crushing debt, the relationship between medical debt and foreclosures, the inequity in those who have health care and those who don’t, and the overall, communal effect on the terrible injustices associated with health care accessibility.
Thanks, Anna, for allowing your story to show why we need the recent act, and even better health care in this country.
I’ve been teaching Sallie McFague this week and am once again struck by the paradox that she raises so eloquently: as Christians, our doctrine of the incarnation suggests we should honor bodies as God’s dwelling place and our primary concern should be the well being of all bodies– and yet, we’ve been historically and politically involved in contempt for bodies. You make it so clear how Christians are called to respond to these questions when the political questions arise before us.
“The question is not whether we should mix Christianity and politics. To follow Jesus is to be political. The issue is whether our understanding of Christianity makes the world more gracious or less gracious. Do we work against injustice, opression, greed, and self-absorption, or do we defend the status quo… (and) treat Jesus as our team mascot? Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives all face these temptations.”
Phillip Gulley & James Mulholland in “If God is Love: Rediscovering Grace In An Ungracious World”
I’ve recently been revisiting Wendell Berry’s “Health is Membership” & was reminded of you as he traces the word origins of “health”…The word “health,” in fact, comes from the same Indo-European root as ‘heal,’ ‘whole,’ and ‘holy.'”
Thanks for another thought-provoking post!
Thank you, Anna, for your powerful words, and for sharing your and your children’s story.
As a citizen of Finland, and now of USA, this health care issues has been one that I still don’t have a handle on. It’s just all messed up here! Really! Messed up. Issues like this made me actually bite the bullet and become a citizen so that I could vote. Vote for humanity.
I agree with your discussion on health care. I have worked in the medical field and have had first hand knowledge of just how unjust the system is because the base line in money, period. At one point in the history of health care patient rights meant something, but not now.
The Hospitals of the past where mostly administrated by religious orders with medical trained individuals. I am disheartened by the current administrative systems of hospitals who employ professional administrators whose focus is on money not what patients need. In fact when new inventory is needed nurse, doctors, anesthetist, etc. are not consulted on what to buy leaving much of what is bought left in the carton they arrived in because of the poor quality or uselessness of them. It makes no sense, as the focus is on saving costs, building new buildings, building too many unnecessary clinics across the street from clinic rivals.
The families needs are one of the last issues address, if their is money left over. I went into the medical field to serve not to watch people suffer inhuman through lack of care.
Don’t even let me start about pre-existing conditions, the cost of medical insurance industry, or corporate/political connections as all have no place in the health care of desperate people looking for justice. My questions is where is the church (all) in voicing an outrage? Are they too part of the problem? Just asking!