Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Health Care - a revelation of ideology vs morality

It's a long story, a side-track really, so I won't lead you too far down this rabbit trail, which is really more of a confession about my exercise habits. About a year ago, I discovered something called "cross fit", which is mostly about an exercise philosophy that says, "mix it up - don't just jog around the lake every day. Lift some weights. Do some squats. Play tennis. Climb. Jump rope. And importantly, don't just jog, sprint. In fact, sprint up hills!"

"Yes", I say to myself, "jogging is from Satan. After all, look at how sore I am after running around the lake, three times a week, year after year. I'm finished with this nonsense! Instead I'll do what the cross fit people say to do: some lifting here, some sprinting there, an occasional climb."

Well, one year later I'm here to tell you that the easy part was giving up jogging. I mastered that in the first week. That's right; no more mind numbing repetitive exercises for me. Instead I'll be...well, here's the confession part: I'll be either sleeping, or watching TV, or being sedentary in some other way; anything but getting out and doing these short bursts of intensive exercise that are supposed to be so good for you. Actually getting my butt out the door to do these other health giving things is, in fact, much harder than the simple act of declaring that such things are good for me.

The problem, you see, isn't in what I say I believe. The problem is that what I actually believe is revealed, not by what I say, but by what I do. What I say I believe, when the day is done, doesn't matter at all. The coffee shop discussions about justice, poverty, simple living, worship, church life, and sexual ethics might all serve the purpose of helping us clarify where we ought to be going. But unless we go there, the ideology we say a believe becomes an anesthetic, numbing my soul to our own lack of moral fiber.

It wouldn't be so bad if this were only a personal problem. Instead, the evidence is that this is THE problem that prevents so much that is good from ever taking root in our lives, our families, our nations. We confuse our own rhetoric with reality, declaring to ourselves and others that because we have good intentions, we're good.

Nowhere is this more visible at this moment, than in the present health care discussion occurring in congress. We all agree that it's deplorable that our nation spends more per capita on health care than any nation in the developed world, but ranks lower in life expectancy, and higher in infant mortality than most of the nations on the chart. It's sickening that this is the only developed nation in the world where people lose their life savings, retirement income, and homes for a single surgery. Did you know that 18,000 people die each year in our country of treatable diseases?

David Brooks, my favorite conservative journalist, exposes the shame and posturing on both side of the political aisle that will, I'm afraid, ultimately create an emasculated bill, failing to deal with the real issues of cost controls. A bi-partisan proposal that begins by taxing health benefits has been pronounced 'dead on arrival' by those with the power to kill it, even though it has bi-partisan support and will serve to create a real alternative without driving America further into the cave of bankruptcy. You can, and should, read about it here.

Instead, all alternative plans on the table face the challenge of either being too expensive, or too narrowly focused, to be effective in fixing the problem. The Wyden/Bennett plan taxes health care benefits because, and this may come as a surprise to some senators, FIXING HEALTH CARE WILL BE EXPENSIVE. That this fundamental reality is lost on some politicians, as well as millions of Americans, is astonishing to me. In Europe and Canada, people are taxed at much higher levels, and nationalized health care keeps costs (and negatively, some would say, availability) under control, but grants access to 'basic health care' for all people. It's a solution - but it costs taxpayers money, rather than resorting to the treasury's printing presses again.

Unfortunately, nobody wants to pay. So the collective leadership are presently talking a good game, declaring their ideals for affordable health care. But early on in the discussion it's clear that what is meant is this: let's find a way to gain all the benefits of muscle mass without that sweaty nasty thing called excerise. Let's find a way to eat sugar coated 'fried muckos' for breakfast, while lowering our cholestoral and blood sugar. Preaching good health while they dine on moral doughnuts, our leaders are marching the health care initiative to an early grave.


At 23/6/09 15:18, Anonymous Lauren said...

thanks for this post, richard, and for highlighting such an important issue. as you said, health care reform - and any public health care option - is going to be expensive. period. i agree with you - it's baffling that so many, politicians included, find this shocking. but to me, it's like the light rail situation in seattle (not really, but in at least one way). YES, it will be more expensive and raise our taxes, but it is WORTH it. better public transportation is important. affordable healthcare for all is CRUCIAL. i think it's interesting that some in congress and in the media are trying to make the sticker price out to be such a SHOCK. RUN from socialized medicine, they say. Obama is steering us straight to socialism! The thing is, universal health care is what Obama promised he would fight for during the campaign, and it's what a sizable majority voted for in November. Thus, we should not be shocked. We should be thankful that our president is following through on a promise. But the promise isn't a free one. It will cost us all something. But everything worth anything costs something. This one, I believe, is WORTH it. It's worth it. Come on, America. Let's DO this thing.

P.S. My intent here was honestly not to be hyper-political. I actually do not believe this should be a Republican or Democrat issue. It is an issue for ALL Americans. I myself was laid off from my job at an architectural firm last month, and now have no health insurance, and won't until I find a full-time job again. This is a personal issue for me, and I truly believe it matters for ALL of us.

At 23/6/09 19:44, Blogger Bekah said...

Your words reminded me of what I read this morning in John 6:60. It talks about how many disciples left Jesus when they heard all that Jesus required of them. The verse states "on hearing it, many of his disciples said, "this is a hard teaching. Who can accept it."

Jesus' followers followed when all they had to do was say they believed. When Jesus asked them to change their lifestyle to follow him they left him.

It brings to mind the statement, "easier said than done."

At 24/6/09 08:28, Anonymous mg said...

In a way, this comment doesn't go along with the point of your post, but I think that trying to say that life expectancy/infant mortality is directly related to not having national healthcare is misleading. E.g., perhaps we have different standands of what constitutes a live birth compared to other countries. Births that are considered still born in France due to size of infant might be considered live here because the heart is beating and the baby is moving when delivered, but then dies two minutes later. Or w/r/t life expectancy: Our population is generally much more diverse than many other developed nations, so Japan's life expectancy of 81 vs ours of 76 might be explained by the fact that the population there is generally Japanese ethnically. Maybe it's genetics. Not to mention the fact that we have such a high infant mortality rate, and that probably pulls that life expectancy number down too.

All this to say, while it is important that folks have access to medical care, using current spending, rates of infant mortality or longevity doesn't seem like the way to make the case.

At 24/6/09 09:31, Anonymous Ken said...

There are so many tentacles to this issue that it is nearly impossible to begin the discussion. Back-up to a simple reality that anytime individuals do not pay for something (the classic free lunch paradigm) we usually are trying to "fix" the wrong problem. We want to fix what many see as broken, but most do not wish to agree or even consider what broke it. Anything that is "free" will have unlimited demand by the simplest law of economics, supply and demand. I appreciate the notion that we have acknowledged that universal health care will be very expensive, but what does that really mean? I think what that statement means for individuals is that it will be really expensive for a mystical "someone else" who has a capacity greater than myself to pay for whatever I need or want in health care. There in lies the protest by some that it is the way of socialism, from those who have to those who need. In a perfect world that makes perfect sense. In the world we actually live in it has ALWAYS led to some form of slavery eventually. By that I mean the very few we put in charge of "the system" will eventually do what fallen man ALWAYS does, look out for their own personal interests. If we have learned nothing in our study of human history, of which the Bible is one of our greatest resources, it is that those few we put in charge will find a way to take our individual freedom from us for the common good as they see it. That generally means their own personal good.

When God's chosen people demanded a king so they could have a central leader like their neighbors instead of kneeling before their God as their Sovereign, things definitely took a turn for the worse. As Americans many currently believe we have found noble leadership that will prevail over human history to care for our needs so we no longer must care them ourselves. If by some chance that wish were fulfilled, I fear all we would achieve is a weaker populace that has lost its sense of strength, responsibility, accomplishment and freedom. In the end we would be vulnerable to whatever wind would blow us to the next "free lunch".

At 25/6/09 19:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Outish here,

Yes, quite.


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