Dispatch from America: Yes, we got a Health Care Bill, but we are still a hurting country!


I stayed up last night to watch the vote, and was relieved when Congress got the 217 it needed to pass the long-awaited (and much-contested) health care bill. It’s been a long time coming, and hats off to President Obama and Speaker Pelosi for accomplishing something that no President or party has been able to do in a century. We now join the rest of the wealthy industrial nations in enabling our citizens access to affordable health care. It’s about time.

And our citizens sorely need it. We trail many nations in life expectancy, infant mortality and other such indicators, yet we have the best medical resources in the world. If you had access to this care you were charmed. All the members of Congress have it, all rich people have it, and when they get ill they don’t have to make choices between seeing a doctor and going without food.

But many don’t have it. My wife, a public health nurse who serves the underserved in our community, sees the results every day, and it isn’t pretty. Estimates have been around 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year because of lack of access to health care.   I have seen it in my congregations for over 30 years; I have seen it in my own family.

When people lose their jobs they lose their health care, and often they lose their tenous grip on the middle class. Often they lose their homes. Many stay in jobs they hate because they can’t afford to lose their health care. You could have great health insurance, and then when you got ill or injured, your company could (and often did) drop you. If you had a pre-existing condition you could be denied care. Everybody except the most benighted and clueless among us agreed our system was broken.

With this bill, which is by no means perfect, and certainly not socialized medicine as some of the rhetoric of its overheated critics have called it, all that will change, although not right away.

I honestly didn’t think it would happen.

Just over a year ago President Obama was beginning his term, and hopes were high. After all, he had won the election with 53% of the vote.
But then it didn’t happen. There was endless debate, and the Democratic Party (mine, but not with much enthusiasm usually) seemingly bumbled their chances away. Then Ted Kennedy died, and my own state elected a Senator who was against the health care bill, so the Democrats lost their super-majority, and the pundits said health care was dead. And I believed them. Just how the President and the Speaker pulled this particular rabbit out of the hat at the last minute still mystifies me.I am happy today that we got it, but I am deeply troubled for my country. This was not a bi-partisan bill, although it is almost identical to the one that my former governor, Republican Mitt Rommney, put into place in Massachusetts. But not one, NOT ONE, Republican member of Congress crossed the aisle to vote for it. There were some “profiles in courage” on the Democratic side for members who knew that their vote will mean that they will not get elected, but there were no profiles in courage on the Republican side, only profiles in shame. Where were the people I used to admire from the opposition? Where was Olympia Snow? Where was Susan Collins?

I’ll tell you where they were. They were with the rest of their party in deciding that the best strategy in dealing with the Obama victory a year ago was to do nothing to help him in any way. The GOP (the Grand Old Party) became the PON (the Party of No).

So I am happy we got the bill, but we are not a healthy nation.Now the Republicans are claiming they weren’t consulted. That is an out and out lie. We have never had a President so intent on developing a bipartisan approach to solving our country’s ills as this one. They thought they could wait him out and make him look bad, and it almost worked. Some of this is politics as usual, but in past historic votes like the Voting Rights and Social Security Acts there were a handful of dissenters from their party that saw it was the right thing to do and crossed the aisle.

Not this time. Do you think this is a coincidence? No. It was a party-wide strategy of obstruction, and although I generally like to see a good opposition party, I hope they take a beating at the polls for their cowardice and mean-spiritedness.

The debate on the floor of Congress last night had some awful moments. Congressman Nunes of California called this modest bill totalitarian and likened it to Soviet-style Communism. One “honorable gentlemen” yelled out “baby killer” at the most pro-life Democrat in the Congress.

After the vote, a visibly tired President Obama tried once more to reach out to make it look bi-partisan, and to sell it to the American people.I grieve that my country is so divided. I grieve that so many are motivated by fear and self-interest. And I grieve that we have become so heartless toward the poor and needy among us. And I especially grieve that so many who feel this way are my fellow Christians.

I am glad we got the bill, however modest. It will make the country a less heartless place. The Old Testament prophets used to judge the health of the nation by how it treats “the last, the least, and the lost” among us. By that measure we as a nation still stand under judgement.

Last night we did a little better, but we are still a country greatly divided, a country still hurting.

Was Scott Brown telling the truth about Health Care? Not really! Part 1


My new United States Senator Scott Brown is all sworn in, and rolling up his sleeves to get to work.  Only twelve days after his stunning upset victory over Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts special senate election Brown made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows last week.
How did he do? On the January 31 edition of This Week with Barbara Walters he encouraged President Obama to put a freeze on federal position hires and raises because, he said, “as you know, federal employees are making twice as much as their private counterparts.”
This just doesn’t sound right to me, and it didn’t sound right to the Web site PolitiFact.  Here’s what they had to say:

PolitiFact | In PolitiFact debut, Brown says federal jobs pay twice as much as private sector jobs

Posted using ShareThis

Was Scott Brown telling the truth about Health Care? Not really! Part 2


Then later (on her show last week)Barbara Walters asked Senator Scott Brown, “Why isn’t what’s good for Massachusetts good for the whole country?” Brown responded, “In Massachusetts, the free market, the free enterprise has taken control, and they’re offering a wide range of plans. I’ve never ever said that people should not get health insurance. It’s just a question of if we’re going to take a one-size-fits-all government plan or we’re going to do something where the individual states can tailor their plans as we’ve done.” 

When Walters asked him, “Do you think the whole plan should be scrapped?” Brown said, “Yes.” 
“The whole plan?” Walters pushed him on it.

“Yes,” Brown said again.
In the Roundtable discussion afterwards liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman expressed incredulity at Brown’s statement, claiming that the Massachusetts health care bill, which as you may recall, was pushed through by Republican Governor Mitt Romney with Brown voting for it in the Massachusetts senate, is nearly identical to the Senate bill.
Was Krugman right? PolitiFact says he was, that the differences in the bills are few and in the small print.  Here’s what they had to say:

PolitiFact | Krugman calls Senate health care bill similar to law in Massachusetts
Posted using ShareThis

So Brown is off to a bit of a rough start in his relationship to the facts, not an entirely unknown flaw in a politician.  But he’s in the big leagues now, so he better do his homework before he talks on national network TV, or else Tina Fey might be impersonating him on Saturday Night Live sometime soon. People loved his populist truck driving image on the campaign trail, and his fiery rhetoric about the rascals in Washington. But now he’s in Washington, and people do actually pay attention to what you say there.

>Robert Reich explains the Public Option and it doesn’t sound so scary to me


I have been hearing that the “Public Option” in Health Care Reform will never happen, that it is “off the table,” and a “non-starter.” So what makes the “Public Option” so scary to our elected officials?
I just watched this video by Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, and it doesn’t sound scary to me. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to me. So who is scared by this? And what can be done to assure that our broken health care system can be fixed? As he says: this is our last chance. “In a few weeks this will all be history.”

Where I Ruminate on My Experience of the British National Health Service

One of the many inflammatory charges that frequently gets tossed into the current health care reform conversation is how bad nationalized health care systems are.

I have recently read an interview with David Sedaris (very funny, of course) about having kidney stone attacks in New York and Paris and comparing the two experiences (and costs.) And author Sara Paretsky, creator of fictional detective V.I. Warshawski, had a piece in the New York Times Magazine about taking her husband to the emergency room in France with chest pains. Both Sedaris and Paretsky agree that the French hospital experience is bureaucratic, but also effective, and above all, cheap.

“I can’t speak to the subject, since I have always been healthy when in France (I suspect it’s all the wine and cheese), but I have been ill while in Britain, and have first-hand (although somewhat dated) experience with the British National Health Service

My family and I have lived in Britain for extended periods of time on three occasions during sabbaticals. My first one was in Oxford, and my children were almost 5 and almost 7 when we got there. Our doctor was Dr. Shakespeare (I’m not making this up) in Summertown, and he ran a clean efficient surgery that adequately took care of our medical needs for the months we were there. Medications, such as antibiotics for a child’s earache, came from the neighborhood chemist. Both the visit and the prescriptions were free, thanks to the NHS. We were resident aliens, but we received care with no questions asked. Sometimes we had to wait, a situation not unknown in America.

On one of the children’s mid-term holidays, we left Oxford and traveled, along with Martha’s sister Andrea, to the Cornwall coast. We stayed in the charming fishing village of Mousehole (pronounced Mowz-uhl) at a guesthouse called “The Lobster Pot.”

I awoke one morning with a sore throat and a slight temperature. We were slated to go down the coast to see St. Michaels Mount, a part-time island with a picturesque priory on it that sits just off the coast in the English Channel. I decide to tough it out, but inquired from our host where I might get medical care if I needed it. She told me that there was a medical group in the village of Marazion, on the mainland, just across from the island.

By the time we got to Marazion I was feeling pretty feverish, so I had Martha drop me off at the medical group while the rest of the party went to see the island. I waited for about a half hour for my turn to go to the window. The friendly receptionist asked me my address, and I explained that I lived in Oxford, but was on holiday in Cornwall. “Where are you staying?” she inquired. I told her I was at “The Lobster Pot” in Mousehole, and she said, “Then you must go to Penzance for care, you are not in our district.” I don’t know if it was the fever or the reference to Penzance, but the conversation did seem to have a Gilbert and Sullivan feel about it.

So, having been denied, I left and walked across the causeway to the Island (you can only do this at low tide) found my family, and spent several hours huddled on a stone bench in a shady spot burning with fever. In due time we found the doctor’s office in Penzance, waited a reasonable amount of time, and I saw the doctor, who, now that I think about, it looked a lot like Hugh Laurie, the British actor who plays Dr. House, in the TV show “House”.He asked me where I was from, and I told him Oxford. “Ah,” he said, “the city of dreaming spires.” He looked in my ears and throat, listened to my chest, took my temperature and sent me to the chemist next door to get some antibiotics, which did the trick in a day or two. All at no cost.

So I draw no big conclusions from my tale except to say I always felt welcome as a visitor in Britain, and it always felt like the right thing to do to provide health care for everybody.I’ll let the experts work out the details, but I am really hoping we can do that here.