Thursday, October 17, 2013

Weighing In

I've been going back and forth about whether to address this hot button issue or, as I so often choose, let the “crisis of the hour” pass and resume life as I know it. Unfortunately, I just can’t remain silent any longer.  I am hurting. And when I’m hurting I write. And I share what I write when it pertains to growing into a greater understanding of living in community, specifically as God’s people.

So, a number of my friends have shared the video of Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace author, discussing his take on why the Affordable Health Care Act will bankrupt our economy.

And while I appreciate the points he makes, the tone and delivery give me reason for concern, especially from an individual looked to and trusted by so many Christians.

The language and tone were condescending and dismissive, suggesting that those who support the Affordable Health Care Act are incapable of simple math. I have a sensitive trigger for “us and them” language, where we lump all people into categories, as Mr. Ramsey did by repeatedly raising the alarm that “healthy people” will be forced to pay for “the sick people.”  Ouch.

I realize that Mr. Ramsey and I differ fundamentally about how taking care of “the least of these” should take place in the world, as we live out our call to love one another as followers of Christ, however, one thing we should always agree on is that we are called to care for one another, especially those most marginalized, not further marginalize with divisive language. Any time we lump all people of any category together, we are not loving one another. 

I will be the first to admit I am no policy expert or economist, and I am certain there are provisions in this bill that would make me cringe (as I’m certain there are in every bill in our very imperfect system). But as one of those stupid, couldn't-pass-junior-high-math liberals who’s out to take all the money away from the hard working rich people and give it to the lazy no-good poor people, here are some of the things I consider…

Mr. Ramsey (and most detractors of the health care act) spent a good deal of time brandishing the words “communist” and “socialist,” known triggers for any cold-war era American.

What I have a hard time with is that we already apply a socialist mindset to one of our most established institutions … the American education system. Why in the world would a nation that believes so wholeheartedly in capitalism require that each child be educated equally regardless of socioeconomic status, family situation or, often, desire to obtain said education?

It is because universal education is seen as a “Cornerstone of our democracy.” We believe that as a nation, we benefit from an educated public. We believe there is less crime and more opportunity when children are provided an education.

After my brief years teaching English in a very poor and transient community in California, I am the first to tell you, once youth reach a certain age and refuse to hold up their end of the bargain, maybe we’d all be better off just letting them quit. But we don’t. We believe that just being there, having to take the classes and be present even if they fail every one of them is better than having them on the streets. And we may be right. I don’t want to be the person teaching that class, but it’s possible. So don’t think my lily-white complexion means my rose colored glasses keep me from understanding the reality of forcing people to receive a service they don’t want.

In many ways we have begun trying to apply a capitalistic mindset to education through our focus on high stakes testing. But here’s the thing, you cannot evaluate an organization in a capitalist manner without a product. And in the American education system, the product becomes the children.

In industry, when you are seeking to make the “best possible product” you would seek out the best possible materials. You would not choose the materials that needed a great deal of work before they could be shaped into the final product. You wouldn't choose the damaged materials or the rotted wood. (And do not even begin to doubt the pain I feel comparing kids to materials and products and using language of “damaged materials” to describe children, yet, when we apply capitalism to education that becomes a necessity.)

So the only way to make the ideal product is to control the materials. We will never be able to control the messages provided by parents to youth in the home or the home lives of said students (whether they have food in their stomachs, rest, clothing, a ride to school, help with homework). We've tried. We have breakfast programs and backpack buddies and clothing drives and any number of supports, but none of that replaces the caring role of a parent as partner and advocate. So, we’re never going to achieve the ideal of every school producing the same product …unless we further socialize the system and take kids out of their homes and turn them into little “future citizen” soldiers.

Now that isn’t a bit scary, is it?

And yet we still attempt, to the best of our ability to provide a free and “equal” education for all (it is in the application of what constitutes equal that I think we get tripped up). So why, why would a capitalist country continue to pour resources, time, and energy into an institution that can only fail by capitalist, consumerist standards?

Because we believe it is necessary for the health of the nation.

If we believe that an educated public benefits the whole of the country and that the right to an education is a basic necessity for Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, we believe that in some instances, a socialist system is beneficial.

We believe education is so essential to the functioning of a free society that when we attempt to bring stability to war-torn, impoverished areas of the world, we bring education. We believe education is the single most important component to giving people the tools to make a living and contribute to society.

But it’s not what we bring first.

What do we do first?

We treat the sick and provide basic health resources to sustain life. Because if you’re fighting to live, if your family is plagued by sickness and death, you are in no position to consider learning ways to improve your existence. You are just merely trying to survive.

And while the health issues of third world countries and the poverty stricken areas of the U.S. are drastically different, they are just as life threatening.

But if we see health care as so crucial to empowering a people to learn new ways to provide for themselves in other parts of the world, how is it that when we translate it to the health of the American people we see it as a privilege of those who can afford it?

Yes, including all persons no matter the condition in the equation will certainly raise the cost per person of coverage. However, if those are the only variables we consider, there are current costs we are leaving out of the equation.

Take a young woman with diabetes (And please do not blame her for her diabetes. The cheapest foods are often those that cause the worst health problems.) She makes just enough money to not be eligible for any kind of assistance, but she cannot afford her insulin, so she does not take it, which lands her in the hospital. The cost of paying for her insulin would be far less than an ER visit. Yet, for many uninsured, the option is to let their condition get bad enough to require ER care, which is often provided regardless of ability to pay when life threatening. This is a HUGE drain on the healthcare system and we are already paying that cost, as making up those losses is factored into the cost of care. 

So in many ways “we” are already paying for “their” care.

There it is again. Us and them.

If I bring back the capitalist application from education and apply it to healthcare, what is the “product?” Services that promote good health and provide cure for illness?

Currently, how do we obtain said product?

We visit doctors for checkups to ensure our overall health and to treat us when we are ill or injured. These visits are dependent on our ability to pay for the services even though we are often completely unaware of the cost until the services are rendered.

What? Isn't the point of a capitalist system that providers are to compete for business by offering better products at lower prices?

So, maybe health care already isn't exactly a capitalist endeavor.

Which is where the insurance equations come into play. Any time you are trying to achieve an average, you cut out the outliers. In this case, we cut out those who are the biggest and smallest drain on the system (Oh, wait, I’m pretty sure insurers never turn down really healthy people, so they are still included). We all pay a relatively similar amount for the assurance that, in the event of illness, the insurance company will help cover the cost of our care.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that health care is already pretty socialized. Only thing is, we've cut out those who can least afford to pay for their own care to benefit the larger group.

Like the kid not picked for the team because he runs slow, we've eliminated those who will drag the rest of us down. And no amount of elective charitable giving will make up the difference.

The reason I support the health care act is because I choose the slow kid. I’m gonna run alongside him because he is my brother. She is my sister. We are in this together. As a nation, as a world, as the body of Christ.

 “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Jesus Christ

 I happen to believe that translates to my politics. I’m okay if you don’t. But don’t assume I’m uneducated or uncaring. I’m just not willing to protect what’s “mine” at the expense of the “other” because I believe at my core that everything I have and everything I am belongs to God to be used for the care of creation and to the benefit of all, and I believe that caring for health needs is pretty fundamental to life.