The mother of one of my congregants recently died of cancer. When the cancer was discovered, it had progressed to the point of being untreatable. She had been in pain for a while, but like many folk, just toughed it out. She didn't go to a physician just to see what might be the problem because she didn't have any medical insurance and didn't think she could afford a visit.
I suspect most ministers encounter such things in our congregations. It is a vivid reminder to us that access to health care is tied intimately to justice " in this case, the ability of the poor to participate fully in the blessings of life.
During a recent Senate hearing, Sen. Tom Coburn said, "I'll tell you the other reason I think health care in this country is pretty good "¦ because when somebody gets cancer, most of the time we get them well. Some fall through the cracks, that's true. But as a two-time cancer survivor, I think this health care is pretty damn good."
As a pastor ministering to those who "fall through the cracks," I'd have to disagree.
I try to live by Jesus' admonition that if you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me. Jesus teaches me that when approaching a complex issue like health care reform, you are to approach it precisely from the perspective of those who "fall through the cracks," and from that perspective, our current system is not "pretty damn good."
The problem is that we approach health from a fundamentally unjust perspective, in that health care in the United States is currently handled as a for-profit enterprise.
I have pretty good health insurance, provided by the church and denomination. During the December 2007 ice storm, my physician ordered a CAT scan. The facilities on the initial list my insurance authorized were without power. When I explained this to one of the agents on the phone, she told me that I'd just have to wait for them to have power again. When I explained that the things my physician was worried about might kill me before power was restored, she said, "Sir, you'll just have to wait."
After I made close to 20 phone calls over two days to my insurance provider, and my physician made a handful of his own, the CAT scan was authorized, and it was discovered I had appendicitis, precipitating emergency surgery. Why was my life dependent upon a for-profit enterprise and not medical personnel?
It wasn't always this way. Health care was often the purview of faith groups and charities. Society pooled its resources and abilities to care for its members.
The biblical faith tradition teaches me that a society which leaves health decisions up to profit-makers, and in the process denies adequate health care to poor members, is in violation of God's justice.
Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, recently issued a statement saying, "The 'new' blueprint for health care will fail for the same reason the current system is failing: It violates the basic laws of economics."
I don't know which reform proposal is the best, but a statement such as that frightens me, because as a Christian minister, I know that health should not primarily be a matter of economics, but of care of the least of these, those who "fall through the cracks."
Jones, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, is pastor of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.