July 2, 2012: HIV & Health Care

Posted on : Jul 2nd, 2012 | By | Category: Still Speaking

Happy Independence Day!

Last week the United States Supreme Court upheld the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act which makes health care coverage both available and affordable for almost all Americans for our entire lives.  I became a strong advocate of universal health care during the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  It was there that I saw firsthand the effects of not having medical care.  Even guys who had health care coverage could be dropped when it was discovered they had HIV.  Pre-existing conditions, cost, experimental drug therapies – you name it – if there was a way to deny coverage, it happened.  Those who didn’t have health insurance or lost their coverage were really screwed.   The difference between the level of care at county hospitals and private hospitals was astounding.  And deeply depressing.

I agree with most people that the Affordable Health Care legislation was put together in a very messy way.  But the bottom line is, health care in the United States is a mess.   Way too many people can’t afford it – both individuals and businesses.  And way too many people suffer needlessly because they don’t have it.  I think the real issue in the US is that health care is a for-profit business.  In the end there are only two ways you can make real money in healthcare.  Raise premiums and deny services.  That’s how you make a profit.  Personally, I wish we had gone to a not-for-profit based system, but that wasn’t politically possible.

What is important is that after 60 years of struggling, we finally have the beginning of a system which will allow health care coverage for almost all Americans.

An interesting historical fact about health care is that it used to be the “domain” of [non-profit] religious institutions.  If you look at all the old, “historic” hospitals in American, most of them include the name of a religious tradition.  For example here in Los Angeles, Cedars Sinai came about as a merger of two Jewish Hospitals; Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was founded by members of the Presbyterian Church; St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank was founded by Roman Catholics, and Methodist Hospital in Arcadia was founded by Methodists.   Hospitals were formed to care for the sick and the dying, but in the early years of our nation (1700-the early 1900’s) hospitals functioned more like “hospices” do today.  That is, they were places where people went to die, but you were able to die with dignity and compassionate care.  It was only religious communities that had the courage to face death and the compassion to serve those who could not afford private doctors to care for the dying at home.

It wasn’t until the 1940‘s when penicillin was made available as an antibiotic that health care really changed.  Once this world-changing drug was made widely available it cured many bacterial infections that previously killed people.  It also gradually introduced a new era in which “there was money to be made in health care.”

Healing is central to the Gospel.  I think there are more stories about Jesus healing people than anything else in the Gospels.  In fact, Jesus is often referred to as “the great physician” – “the great healer.”  In Luke 4: 23, Jesus says, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'”

Better yet, in the gospels, Jesus heals a woman that the other physicians couldn’t:

There was a woman in the crowd around Jesus who had suffered from a flow of blood for twelve years.  Various doctors were unable to cure her.  After long and painful treatment, she had spent all her money and was not any better.   In fact, she was getting worse.  She said to herself, “If I but touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, I will be made well again.”  She came up behind Jesus, reached out, and touched the tassel on his garment, and she was instantly cured.”  [Mark 5: 25-34/Luke 8: 43-48/Matthew 9: 20-22]

Health care in our country is much like this woman who suffered so long.  She spent everything she had trying to get well but kept getting worse.  We need a healing touch.

I hope our country’s new health care law brings about that healing touch.  It certainly isn’t perfect but it is more just, more compassionate and more hopeful than doing nothing.

This Independence Day we can celebrate the freedom to have health care that covers us through all our lives.

Be well and Happy.



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