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“Go and do likewise”: Thoughts on Health Insurance Reform

“Sen Kennedy died Tues after lengthy brain cancer bout. Died sooner if he had had the #NHS #healthcare he advocated?”

That was a post that appeared on my Facebook page this morning. This was from someone whose annoying, Twitter-speak, bumper-sticker slogans against health insurance reform I had tolerated for months. That was the final straw. I defriended him for the cheap shot of seeing someone’s death as an opportunity to score a political point. And by the way, the disingenuous little question mark at the end of the accusation does not mask his vile intent. It was childish, irresponsible and loathsome.

Health insurance reform is a serious issue. It deserves to be fully debated. Alas, what we have is not serious debate, but sloganeering, lies, deception and a shocking lack of respect or compassion from those who will defend the status quo at any cost. And these rage-filled screams all consist of gratuitous attacks that can fit on a posterboard or be summarized in 140 characters. Socialized medicine! Communist! Death Panels! Hitler! And, of course, the ever-present “Birth Certificate!”

Jesus had nothing to say about specifics of health care policy. But he did tell a story about “respectable” people who would walk by and let someone die on the side of the road.

In the 10th chapter of Luke, it’s recorded that when Jesus spoke of loving our neighbor as ourselves, a lawyer asked him, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply, Jesus told a story. It was a story about a man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead on a roadside. Two “respectable” religious leaders came upon him and passed on the other side of the road, lest they contaminate themselves by becoming ritually impure. A third man, an outcast and heretic, came upon the wounded man. “He was moved with pity,” Jesus says. He bandaged the victim’s wounds and took him to an inn, where he paid for the man’s treatment out of his own pocket.

During the course of the healthcare debate, we have been subjected to hysterical accusations and screaming, rage-filled mobs who wish us to continue with our present model of health care dominated by greedy insurance companies. There was one clip on YouTube where an enraged crowd confronted Senator John McCain in a church. There, beneath the cross of Jesus Christ, they angrily complained about health care being provided to the poor. And they loudly booed the senator when he defended the president against accusations that he did not respect the Constitution. This in a church, where people should be dedicated to helping the poor! And not only that, but this was a crowd that was largely on Medicare, decrying the evils of “socialized medicine.”

This week a certain wingnut congressperson from Minnesota, whose name I cannot write because it would simply drain my soul to do so, encouraged a group of “Christians” to fast and pray that God would preserve the current position of the insurance companies. And everyone has heard about the “good Christian” former governor of one state, the patron saint of the proudly ignorant, who bore false witness, claiming falsely that health insurance reform would result in “death panels” that would condemn the elderly and disabled. Of course, her allegations have no basis in fact. And by the way, we already have death panels. Except they’re run by insurance companies, so somehow that makes it OK. You’ll never hear her or her posse complain about that, for apparently that would be un-American.

Now I have no beef against those who responsibly weigh the proposals and find them lacking, or too expensive. OK, let’s talk about that. What do you propose? “Just say No” is not a valid answer.

Not all those who stridently oppose health care reform are fundamentalist Protestants. Regrettably, many of them are also Catholics. The kind of Catholics, I might point out, who love to quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church against all kinds of people they dislike. Here’s one passage from the Catechism they’ll never quote:

“Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment and social assistance.” (no. 2288)

By the way, that’s in the section about the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not kill.”

Don’t sign me up for unqualified allegiance anything the Democrats may propose in health care reform. No doubt there are many details to be ironed out, and it may be that I will disagree with the end product—perhaps even strongly.

But the demonization must stop. The screaming, the parading about with proven lies. Opponents of health insurance reform must come up with valid, proven objections to what is being proposed and debate them civilly. You cannot just wave pictures of Obama with a Hitler mustache and tell lies about Stephen Hawking and defame our British allies and make up crap about “death panels” and twitter one-liners and then scream when you are not taken seriously. You have waived your right to be taken seriously when you espoused conspiracy theories and wild, foaming-mouth accusations. And if you want to claim that the present system is just fine, then just say so. But you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

To allow the current system of health care in the United States to continue would be a grave affront to the Gospel. No system that consigns nearly 20 percent of its population to live without adequate health care is just. Period. Do you disagree with the current proposal? Fine, then come up with another solution that takes into account the needs of the poor. Don’t just wail about how the devil is taking over America because we’re trying to find a way to keep people from dying in the streets. Or even worse, whine that you might have to pay for that man Jesus talked about lying near-dead on the side of the road. Are you the “respectable” person who walks by him, or the outcast who pays for his care?

Ted Kennedy was no saint, I’ll grant you that. But he did a lot of good, especially after he turned his profligate life around. And one thing he said is being quoted a lot today: “Let us resolve that the state of a family’s health shall never depend on the size of a family’s wealth.”

Jesus didn’t give a scholarly or philosophical answer to the question of “Who is my neighbor?” He was too smart for that. He knew we’d just dissect it and deconstruct it until it allowed us to do just about anything. Instead he told a story.

And at the end of that story, he turned to the lawyer who asked the question and posed a question to him:

“Which of these three men, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

The lawyer replied: “The one who showed him mercy.”

And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

2 Responses to ““Go and do likewise”: Thoughts on Health Insurance Reform”

  1. The answer is yes, Kennedy would have died sooner and the benefits of all of the attempts to save his life would have been deprived from medical science, and such deprivation would hurt the many who would benefit from such findings. I agree, the demonization must stop but it arose because a 1000 page health care bill was attempted to have been steamrolled through Congress, most notably after an ineffective and hardly spent 787B stimulus had been steamrolled through Congress. The Administration has outspent the demonized Bush 2.5T to his 450B (including both wars: See Bush Deficit vs. Obama Deficit in Pictures http://bit.ly/1iTyOR ). Opponents of health insurance reform must come up with valid, proven objections to what is being proposed and debate them civilly, but they need time to create ads like the one attached from the League of American Voters ( http://bit.ly/3Nywur ). And Kennedy’s death, preventing the majority’s Cloture on the health care debate will offer that timely and merciful opportunity. It deprived Senate Democrats of the 60th vote they would need to block a filibuster (assuming everyone else in the Democratic caucus voted as a bloc, which is far from certain). But we need more debate and God works in mysterious ways. Those who named the health care bill after Kennedy saw his death as an opportunity to score a political points, not me. My point was utilitarian not political, but i see the confusion. Regarding health care we need regulation not reformation. Dropping the more controversial elements such as a government-run public option for the uninsured, and reducing the overall price tag would put the matter in a more centrist light making it more popular with seniors and independents of which I am one of the latter. And be merciful my Catholic brother – befriend me again. Don’t demonize me?

  2. Thank you for this very well written and thoughtful post on a most challenging, but essential topic.

    Praying to preserve the position of the insurance companies challenges my spirit deeply. And death panels are often what insurance companies turn out to be in my experience.

    Having been unemployed and uninsured, now neither – thank God – I do worry about having the coverage I do have revoked. My fear is irrational I believe and narcissistic at the very least in the face of what so many have to face as uninsured and under-insured Americans.

    Having gotten into quite a few tussles on my own Facebook page (and others) about this I am sensitive about quick quips and short take assumptions. And I am startled by how many people, many of them Catholic, think that health care is not at all a basic human right. Or that it has any bearing on the dignity of the human person.

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