Christian perspectives on health care [August Synchroblog]

healthbabyIt is not easy to shock me. I was an RN for years, dealing with all sorts of disease, injury and abuses to the human body and now I am a therapist, dealing with those same things in the mind. Then there’s my 20 years in church ministry that at times makes my other two careers look like diamond-encrusted pony rides. But the words of one agitated man at a town hall meeting did manage to make my jaw drop. He said, “health care is a privilege, not a right.”

I imagine he is afraid. Fear mongers have been working overtime at these events. Perhaps he fears losing some access or coverage for himself and his family if he has to share, or possibly that he’ll lose choices. Perhaps he fears a large tax increase. The Obama administration hasn’t been able to state clearly how the public option for health care will be funded and I think that is a legitimate concern for all of us.

But I remember an experience from my first year as a nurse, when I was trying to deal with a particularly difficult patient. He was pretty deaf and had no hearing aids, so we had to yell to be heard and of course he yelled too because he couldn’t moderate his voice. He seemed to sabotage every treatment and refused to learn how to care for his illnesses. He was like a little boy in a broken old man’s body. Finally an older, more experienced nurse said to me, “He’s a hobo.” It took a few minutes for it to dawn on me what she meant. He was homeless, or as another pastor friend says more kindly, he was “one who lives outside”. His brief stay in the hospital offered him the first few warm nights and steady nutritious meals that he had had in ages, and he was terrified to leave. That also explained why the cellulitus on his legs never got better and why he had no hearing aids. He was discharged as soon as possible. I never knew what became of him. But it was a harsh lesson for me at 22. Health care was not for people like him. “Hobos” and those who couldn’t pay were cast out.

I have been one of the fortunate ones in that I have never been without health insurance except once and only in part. After my husband and I left our first church parish, we decided to go back to graduate school to further our educations. We were able to obtain health care coverage for ourselves and for our two kids through the university we attended. We opted not to get the maternity coverage because that would have added hundreds of dollars per month that we couldn’t afford and we were certainly not planning a pregnancy during graduate school. Well, you know what they say about making plans. I did become pregnant. It was a pleasant surprise, though we had no idea how we’d afford the costs. Even if we could have afforded more insurance at that point it was not an option because now I had a “pre-existing condition”.

Fortunately for us, the state was “pro-life”. By that I mean that they would cover maternity care for low income women through Medicaid. They didn’t care that we were low income simply because we were in graduate school. They were committed to a healthy pregnancy. So I found myself initiated into the world where people went to apply for welfare and food stamps. It was new to me and I admit, even a bit humiliating. I felt guilty too, wondering if I “deserved” Medicaid because though I qualified at the time, our income following graduate school would vastly improve. Not everyone has that assurance. But the ol’ protestant work ethic was deeply entrenched in me whispering, You don’t deserve what you don’t work for.

I thank God for Medicaid. I had serious complications and I received excellent care. Even so, our baby was born prematurely and died. As a result, I needed surgery and lots of medications. It was a desperately painful and frightening time of our lives, but I had the medical coverage I needed and therefore the care I needed – because of the government. Medicaid and Medicare do work. I was and still am very grateful. And as is so often true, it was through this experience of becoming humble and needy that I would learn to truly receive the essence of grace.

As Christians, we are called to remember the poor and the less privileged. Providing health care is a basic tenet of what it means to honor life, all life. Studies show that those without health care coverage live shorter and sicker lives. To not work for a reasonable public option for health care creates a loud message which says that only those with resources really matter. That message truly infuriated Jesus when he walked the earth and it would be no different now. I know the problems and difficulties of creating a viable public option for health care are many. But if we can dispense with the fear-mongering and vicious bipartisanship we have a real chance of finding solutions. And if they need to raise my taxes to service the less privileged with the most basic of human dignities, then I say TAX ME. When called to account someday I will have invested in human lives.

Sometimes it takes a long time for the church to catch up to the needs of this suffering world. I remember my nursing days when the HIV virus was discovered. Christians fled the sick and dying, cursing them as they went. This time, let’s remember who we are. This time, let our compassion for those who are sick and in need become our badge of honor. Let the Church truly lead the way on this crucial issue of human flourishing. Stop the fear and the lies and press into hope and possibilities. For someday, we will hear the words, “When I was naked you clothed Me, when I was hungry you fed Me, when I was sick you cared for Me …”

other synchrobloggers: (more will be added as the links come in)

Steve Hayes self evident truths and moral turpitude
Kimber Caldwell Is health care a right?
KW Leslie The Christian’s responsibility to healthcare
Beth Patterson Baby Steps Towards More Humane Humanity
Liz Dyer A Christian Perspective on Healthcare Reform
Kathy Escobar It’s easy to be against health care reform when you have health insurance
Phil Wyman Clowns to the Left?  Jokers to the Right?  Stuck in the Middle of the Health Care Debate.
Susan Barnes Carrying Your Own Load
Jeff Goins A Christian Response to Healthcare in America
Lainie Petersen Caring for Human Dignity

Recommended Posts
Showing 14 comments
  • Katherine E.

    Well said. Thank you!

  • Kimber

    “Sometimes it takes a long time for the church to catch up to the needs of this suffering world.”

    I have often said that the church is about 150 years behind the culture… Thank you for a compassionate and reasoned and dignified response!!

  • marta

    This was beautiful – thank you for sharing your experiences.

    I sympathize with the claim that we can’t afford to care for everyone at the current levels. Or that it won’t solve the problem. Those are both valid concerns – but the answer to the second is to find a plan that will solve the problem rather than to deny the problem, and to the first it’s to provide care at a level we can afford to everyone rather than to only provide the expected level of care to those we can afford to treat.

    Honestly, this fear of “rationing care” disgusts me sometimes. If someone is okay getting care they need even if someone else doesn’t get what they need, but is scared of losing what they need, fear of “rationing” starts to sound a lot like “make sure I get what I think I need, even if others don’t get the same consideration. Which just ain’t cool, and it’s definitely not what I think of as Christ’s ethics.

  • Beth Patterson

    Hi Ellen–
    Thank you for this thoughtful post. And thank you for sharing your personal grief and the knowledge that the system worked for you and your family. It’s good to hear those stories!

    Yes, like you said and Kimber echoed, the church is at elast 100 years behind the culture. Someone wise has said that we’re only truly as civilized as how we treat our most vulnerable: aged, ill, young and prisoners. By those standards, we have a long way to go.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments on my post for this synchroblog. I truly think the church is way behind on that particular dialogue. But there’s nothing to do but do our parts in speaking and teaching and showing up, yes?

    Thanks again, Ellen–

    • ellenharoutunian

      You provide the opportunity for us to “show up” and offer our voices beautifully, Beth. 🙂 Thanks.

  • gracerules

    Ellen – Your personal story and encounter made this post come alive and remind us that this is not about politics or religion – it is about people!

    I live in an area where it seems the majority of people I come into contact with are against a public option. I think a big part of the problem is that we have created a culture that is very individualistic and self centered. Maybe “the American dream” isn’t good for society as a whole.

  • kathyescobar

    ellen, you are one of my favorite writers, beauty and compassion always pour out of you. i especially love this: “This time, let’s remember who we are. This time, let our compassion for those who are sick and in need become our badge of honor. Let the Church truly lead the way on this crucial issue of human flourishing. Stop the fear and the lies and press into hope and possibilities.” love ya girl, see you soon i hope.

pingbacks / trackbacks

Leave a Comment