The Moral Case For Health Care

Although I am not, as a whole, a huge fan of Alexis de Toqueville, the whole "conversation" on health care has had me thinking over the past few days about one of his quotations.
"As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?"
Indeed, so much of the conversation about possible changes to the way health insurance works in this country has revolved around money. I've seen lots of yelling at town hall meetings about "fiscal responsibility" and "communism" and "paying for other people".

This has made me reflect on the public discourse that surely went on when this nation had to make another choice between money and morals.

Back when the abolition of slavery was a heated topic of debate, folks ranted about how getting rid of slavery would hurt the fiscal bottom line of the country. How could we possible afford to not have slavery?

Seriously, can't you just hear some slave owners yelling, "You expect me to PAY people to work in the fields? Where am I supposed to get the money for that? I want my country back!"

Slave owners were obviously worried more about gold and less about their souls.

On the other hand, most early abolitionists were Quakers and were motivated by their spiritual convictions, their moral sense of what is right. They believed in the oneness of humanity as a spiritual and moral concept, and so ending slavery was a moral and spiritual obligation worth fighting for.

Unfortunately, as de Toqueville observed, money is often more important than morals in America. For this reason, we were the last western nation to abolish slavery. It was abolished in England in 1772, and the British Empire ended it in its colonies in 1833, a full 30 years before the Emancipation Proclamation.

Funny how we are again the LAST western nation to act on an important social and moral issue. Except, this time it's health care, not slavery.

And so I wonder, where are the voices of our religious leaders in all of this debate?

Last night I couldn't sleep so I was flicking through the TV channels. I caught part of a discussion on MSNBC's "The Ed Show".

The host, Ed Schultz asked the question I've been wondering. Where are the voices of some of our nation's most prominent Christian preachers? Why the silence from voices like Rick Warren?

Schultz reflected on Jesus:
"When Jesus walked the face of the earth, he was feeding the hungry, he was clothing the poor, and healing the sick. He didn't ask anybody for their health insurance card. And he didn't heal anybody for profit.

Yet we hear nothing from the Christian leadership in this country on health care reform and the moral obligation we face as a nation to address this issue."

In the discussion of health care and morals, it feels like the love of gold instead of love for humanity is winning in the hearts of too many Americans.

Someone I know who happens to also run the web site of my favorite band in the world posted this on his twitter feed this morning.
"Got first hospital bill. I owe St Josephs $7793.32!!! F*** ME! I am screwed!!! And I still have a second bill coming. :("
You see, he's a freelance web master so he doesn't have health insurance. He works WAY more than 40 hours a week, but he has no insurance. And he has pre-existing conditions so there is no way he can get private health insurance.

Too bad for him, right?

Here in Los Angeles, thousands of REAL people like him have been standing in line every day this week at the Forum in Inglewood, trying to get seen by doctors at a free eight-day health care faire. The images here look like a scene out of some Doctors Without Borders brochure.

Some of the people going to this faire have health insurance but they simply can't afford the deductibles. For others, their insurance refuses to pay for a procedure. Or they have jobs that don't provide insurance, or they have no insurance at all.

People who weren't one of the lucky 8,000 to get a wristband guaranteeing they'll be seen by a doctor have been walking away in tears. One woman who didn't get a wristband made me cry today. She's been laid off and she knows she is going to die without medical care, but there is no affordable medical care for her in the United States of America.

And the mothers carrying away their children because they didn't luck out and get a wristband -- We Americans should all be ashamed of such scene in the richest nation in the world.

Where is the spiritual correctness in this? What could possibly be morally correct about this?


Great post Liz and so true. Our priorities are all screwed up in this country!
Lenina said…
Let's look around: health, a roof, education, EVERYTHING is merchandise. Everything means money. Everything can be bought.

It's not only the US. I don't have any health insurance as well. Public health system is screwed as well.

I might sound reactionary Liz, but capitalism is something that doesn't take into account morality since its very beginning, core & roots. (my understanding of morality is: respect for all the basic rights EVERY living creature, not only humans, should have)
Liz Dwyer said…
I'm watching Andersen Cooper right now and he has an insurance company whistle blower on and he's talking about how they dump the sick in order to drive up profits. It's sick. :(

Wilder Love,
I have a feeling that things will get worse before they get better as far as the capitalism, materialism and individualism driving everything -- but I truly believe this is a decaying system. And, it's something that cannot last if we're going to survive on this planet. I know new ways of being/thinking in relation to each other and to the world are being born. But will we embrace them or not?
Anne said…
Hi Liz, Yes, I agree, health care is a moral issue. I think we first need to decide as a nation what we value and what to do if we don't all agree on what we value. Only once that's determined can we work together to decide how to implement that. Of course, I'm an idealist.

The good news is, there are many Christians and those of other Faiths speaking out about health care. Jim Wallis of Sojourners has made health care a top priority issue. You might want to look at some of his Faith based resources here:

I've stepped carefully regarding this issue so as not to get drawn in to partisan politics, but I think it's important to talk about what we really value in this country. Only with that foundation can we ever hope to find a workable solution. It's fine to disagree on how to best achieve that solution, and that might even be a productive part of problem solving, but we really need that foundation of what really matters to us collectively.

This whole thing just saddens me.

Sharifa said…
Remote area medical only got this much press once they came close to a major city. They were featured on Al Jazeera English ( the Faultlines show) before US MSM picked this up. What does that say about the media?! Maybe people Will start to see that this is not just a problem for a few faceless and stop believing the lies.
Liz Dwyer said…
Thanks for the link. I like how the site says, "It is fundamentally about whether we are a community that values the life of each person -- poor, rich, or middle-class. Remind our leaders what is really important in the health-care debate."

With this issue (and lots of others) the hard thing is that it's becoming so difficult for people to figure out what they actually believe and value because the information they're being fed is lies and spin. The whole death panel thing this week is a prime example. And the partisanship doesn't help anybody. It just entrenches folks into their opposite corners.

They've barely been getting coverage here in LA and I've only seen a couple things about it in the national news! Nobody ever thinks they're going to be the one to need help, but we are all vulnerable, for sure.
Amen, amen, AMEN! This has been on my mind so much in the last few weeks. I have been so disappointed, and frankly, embarrassed, by the "Christian right's" response to this. It is absolutely a moral and social justice issue in our country that people do not have access to care. I know there are some of us in the Christian camp who are preaching this, but we seem to be in the minority. It makes me sad.

I don't understand how some people reconcile the teachings of Jesus with capitalistic greed and self-serving motives . . .
nick said…
I read about the Los Angeles free health care session, which really shows up the inadequacy of US health care. And I know free sessions like that are being held all over the States, with huge numbers attending them. I sure hope Obama gets his reforms through and the country finally gets something resembling a civilised health service. And yes, where are all the religious leaders who should be shouting from the rooftops?
Mes Deux Cents said…

The people who are protesting health-care reform also protest abortion rights and yet health-care for everyone will reduce the amount of abortions

They say health-care for everyone is too expensive and yet 1 million people a year go bankrupt due to medical bills. That's 10 million people very decade.

They say they want to take their country back and yet it's the big insurance companies who are in control and who they are helping.

Logical thinking is a lost art in America.

Great post.
Liz Dwyer said…
I have really been trying to understand how it is that the moral and spiritual implications of this seem to be not that important to people. It's hard for me to understand.

Did you see the report that came out yesterday talking about how much income disparity grew over the past 7 or 8 years? I have to find the link for it. It was staggering -- worse now than back in the Gilded Age or 1928. I have a feeling that in the future people will look back on this time like how we look back at the Renaissance -- so much innovation but also so much oppression/lack of human rights still going on.

There should be a whole LOT of people shouting! The weird thing is that some areas that have been hardest hit by the recession are the exact same places people are talking about they don't want health insurance except if it's from a corporation. Wow, the PR people really have done their jobs well.

I'll admit that I do not have a whole lot of faith that true reform will happen. Maybe it'll be a baby step in the right direction, but I'm not holding my breath on this. :(
Liz Dwyer said…
What I find totally bizarre is that folks say they don't want the gov't coming between them and their doctor, but hello, they're OK with a for-profit corporation doing just that! No logic in that at all. We're getting an F in critical thinking as a society.
What's odd to me is the total lack of foresight? Do people really not understand that the wellness of my neighbor is my wellness?? If my neighbor gets say the plague, and dies. Who's going to be next??

While I believe in health care for all, the lack of understanding the social nature of disease is what bothers me the most.
Jen said…
Most of the people I know who are protesting health care reform (these are just the folks I KNOW, I'm not saying this is a national sample or anything) are conservative Christians. Hmmm... this just makes no sense to me. They try to live their lives to serve Jesus and serve others and while that is not part of my own personal belief system, anything where you're trying to make the world a better place is a good thing, and yet, they see no moral obligation to make sure everyone has a right to health care? It makes no sense to me whatsoever. Your post was right. on. target. as usual.
Remnants of U said…
Thanks again for eloquently putting into words how important this issue is and why. I just don't understand all the ranting that the average American is doing AGAINST this issue. Please for those ranting against it, provide a solution so that we can have a plan. Because what we have doesn't work for anyone except the insurance companies.
Karina said…
So well said Liz! So well said. I don't understand how the conservative Christian faithful can be so "faithful" yet yell that helping their brothers is "socialism", and it's "wrong", and "keep your hands off my healthcare"....because apparently sharing that most basic of healthcare, and preventative care is just...what's the phrase some wingnut yelled the other day? Oh, yes..."I don't want America to become RUSSIA"! Clearly my version of 'faith' is quite different, because I think it's our duty to take care of those who cannot help themselves...

I live in Canada, and while our system isn't perfect, you know what? If I break my leg, or god forbid have a heart attack, I won't get a $14K bill in the mail. I may get a bill for the ambulance ride, if instead of a heart attack I actually had indigestion and was therefore wasteful. But I will not lose my home, simply because my insurance company dropped me, due to some bull***t technicality (anything in the world can seem to be seen as a pre-existing condition, it's ridiculous) ...I will still have protection from my government health plan.....

I love America, but at times like these am so glad I do not live there.
Liz Dwyer said…
Yeah, folks freaked out about swine flu but they forgot that one of the best ways to keep an epidemic like that from spreading is for an entire population to have access to good health care. Let's hope plague outbreaks don't happen again.

The more I think about it, I really don't understand how folks can not see a moral obligation. I'd love someone to explain to me that there is no moral obligation.

Yes, I'd like to see some people-centered solutions offered as well. But none have been put forth. None at all, just keeping the status quo going.

It is strange that any form of helping other people is now tagged with the label of socialism. And the weird thing is that places with universal health care, like France, are nothing like how the old Soviet Union was.

It seems like there needs to be a separation between Christianity and "conservative" politics because the two are not, in my opinion, based in the same principles.
"It seems like there needs to be a separation between Christianity and "conservative" politics because the two are not, in my opinion, based in the same principles."

EXACTLY. I think there is a growing contingency of Christians who are thinking this way, but unfortunately we don't get as much media attention because we don't look as ridiculous on-camera, you know? I loved this letter written by a more progressive pastor:

(also, for me, for someone to be "prolife" and then anti-healthcare reform is just plain stupid.)

You alluded to this, and I agree, too: it's ironic that there is so much hype over what I consider to be a very conservative shift. Personally I would like to see a single-payer system. What we have seems like a major compromise, and yet people are still screaming socialism.
Dale said…
First time reading you Losangelista! I saw this on my friend's FB profile and clicked through. Thanks for this. I'm an American working for the UN in the developing world and I have had my self or my family treated in hospitals and clinics in Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Rome, Zurich, Bath, Brisbane, Beijing, Manila, Salzburg, Tirana and Haifa. With the exception of Papua New Guinea I'd say we got good excellent or good care in all of them. However, the feeling that care and help was more important than payment has been the major difference between all these and the facilities we've known and used in the US - where our dodgy Antwerp-based UN insurance plan is looked on with great suspicion. One thing that keeps me obsessed with the current debate in the States is the fact that virtually the whole world sees health care as a human right, as well as a moral issue. Sadly the US leads the world in civil and political rights but brings up the rea in terms of social and cultural rights.
Rosita said…
I think they need to do one of these clinics on the Mall in Washington, DC the week Congress gets back in session. Maybe seeing so many people lined up for care with wake up the Senate and the Congress.
Liz Dwyer said…
True that the most extreme speakers at town halls seem to get the most attention. At the televised one last week it seemed like the media was just waiting for something crazy-sounding to be said. Good point about the conflict between pro-life and anti-health care. That's a strange thing right there.

Welcome! Thanks for sharing your experiences. You really are in a unique position to be able to know what the situation with health care is around the world. What do you think will need to happen for Americans to shift their mindsets on this issue?

That is SUCH a good idea. If only that could happen.
Shiona said…
Well said Liz. I have a $900 deductible for me and my son. That's $1800! Working at my minimum wage job (which is not supposed to be minimum wage at this point but that's a long story)is not going to help me pay a bill I may receive. We both have an appointment next month (for routine checkups) and I am not looking forward to the cost. Since my family members who also happen to be Christian have such awesome health insurance I wonder if they would help me out with paying.

Like other commenters said something needs to be done

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