I believe, as taught by the Hebrew prophets and Jesus, that the measure of a society is seen in how it treats the most vulnerable. The current discussion about health-care reform is important for the United States to move toward a more just system of providing care to all people (Isaiah 1:16-17, Jeremiah 7:5-7, Matthew 25:31-45).
Before I moved back to my hometown of Indianapolis in 2004, I was an organizer for Service Employees International Union. I spent three years working with nursing home workers, nurses, and even hospital patients. I got to see the tragedy of American Healthcare up front and personal.
I spent my last year with SEIU working as a patient organizer for the Hopsital Accountability Project. It was my job to work with patients who had been sued (financially destroyed) by Advocate Health Care, the largest hospital system in Chicagoland. If that wasn’t bad enough, Advocate is a joint Lutheran-United Church of Christ hospital system and some of its hospitals are named Christ, Good Shepherd, Good Samaritan!
I bet the Methodist based Clarian Health in Indiana is much better.
One of the uninsured Advocate patients I worked with was a victim of violent crime who had been shot in the stomach and nearly killed. He developed a hernia the size of a football not too long after he was released by Advocate Christ Medical Center, but was told he needed to pay the hospital in cash before they could remove the hernia! (He had a friend who helped him come up with the money, but still “owed” tens of thousands of dollars to the hospital)
This man and other patients took their stories to the media, to the streets, and to the statehouse. The highlight of the campaign was when these patients took over the billing office at Christ Hospital when demands went unmeant. Many of these hospital debts were forgiven when the public scrutiny got a bit too much.
Back here in Indiana though, we have our own problems. We lead the county in per-capita medical based bankruptcies and nearly 30% of Hoosiers were uninsured at some point last year.
As United Methodist Churches and as we rethink church, lets make sure that we do everything possible to agents of change when it comes to our national and local health care system. Let’s remember and act on the words from our Social Principles of the United Methodist Church:
Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak: “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured.” As a result all suffer. Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities.