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On June 29, 2017, I stood on the lawn of the US Capitol and spoke for approximately 15 minutes as part of a 24-hour interfaith vigil for healthcare. Below are my remarks.
I am the New Testament woman with the hemorrhage.
Over 13 years ago, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a health issue of migrating tissue, imbalances of hormones, and pain. While I dealt with pain for years prior to my diagnosis in 2003, much of the time I’ve dealt with the issue the best I can since sometimes it’s just an hour or two of rough pain with mild to moderate pain on and off during the other hours of the day.
But occasionally, the health issue will flare up like it did earlier this year. I’ll try various methods to try to control it. Physicians will say to me: Let’s try this pill. How about another ultrasound? What about trying birth control to manage the disease. Maybe it’s time to have another minimally invasive procedure.
Over and over I’ve tried different medications and procedures to manage this disease. More money spent here and there to see if this will be the magic formula to keep the disease at bay. The time spent at the doctor’s office or waiting. The costs of other health struggles that result from these issues – like low iron.
When my endometriosis flared up this year, it was adhesions causing the extreme pain. While many gynecologists treat it, only a few in our country know a special technique that will help the issue from coming back – at least for a number of years. But I checked with the doctor, and they are out of network, so after insurance, the doctor’s bill alone would have been around $15,000. I couldn’t go to the specialist who knew the special techniques of removing deeper tissue. Fortunately, I do have insurance, so I was able to go to my own doctor, and she helped remove some of the tissue. But even being on the top tier insurance, I still have nearly two thousand dollars I need to pay for deductibles and co-pays.
I am the woman with the hemorrhage – the one who spent time, energy, money to heal. But I’m not the only woman dealing with this issue. Many other women with endometriosis do not have health insurance. Even though my copays are costly, most of the costs are taken care of by insurance. Others with endometriosis can’t afford the birth control pills to attempt to control the disease, or the IUD that is known to help, and with cuts to Planned Parenthood proposed as well they will have one less outlet to find the help they need with this health care issue. They can’t afford surgeries. And then there are the women who have insurance who are being denied hysterectomies and other procedures by their insurance company. Some will take their funding issues into their own hands and create a Gofundme page.
They too are the woman with the hemorrhage – spending all of the time and money that they have to find a cure for this disease.
This is just one illness in a sea of so many illnesses that our neighbors, family and friends face. Each one of us at some point of our lives will find ourselves lacking in health and will need to see doctors about serious issues. Most of us can identify with one or more of the people who Jesus healed or the people who advocated for them.
Some identify with the Syrophoenician women from Mark 7. They will press with everything they have to make sure that they can afford treatments for their children. They will call doctors offices and hospitals to negotiate prices. They will contact their insurance company again and again to fight for a treatment to be covered.
Some identify with Peter concerned for his mother-in-law or the men who cut a hole in the ceiling so that they could lower their friend down in order to be healed. It takes advocates like children of elderly parents making sure they can afford home health care or nursing home care for a parent who is not able to care for themselves. It takes advocates like friends or family of people with severe mental or physical illnesses to ensure their loved one has exactly what they need.
Some identify with the child in Mark 9, then considered demon possessed but it sounded like he was having seizures. How did the father in the story react? He yelled “show us compassion!” Don’t many here want to shout that out loud to the powers that be, the men and women who work at the building behind me? Show us compassion.
When I read these stories, I think of so many of the people I know and have known with all sorts of health issues. I think of all the people I know – the people in my congregation and hope they will always have the care they need. I think about my dad. He has Parkinson’s. One of his medicines would cost him $19,000 per month if he didn’t have care. I think of my mom who advocates for him, calling up companies to make sure that he is covered. I think about both of them, hoping that laws don’t change and they will have to pay more for their medications.
Just like I identify with the woman with the hemorrhage, other people might relate to other women and men who Jesus healed.
And yet Jesus had compassion on them. He didn’t ask them over and over again to qualify themselves for care. Even the one person who he did question – the woman from Syrophoenicia – he began to understand her through their common humanity. He understood that he had no right to question the validity of healing her daughter. And instead of criticizing the woman or her daughter any more, he went ahead and healed them.
To our neighbors who serve our country in the United States Senate and House of Representatives as well as the executive branch: we are humans with dreams often cut short because our health care system allows our bodies to fail. We are humans wanting to live not just a long life, but a long AND healthy life. We are humans who want to see our children grow in body, mind, and soul. We are humans that want our elderly parents to decent care when they can no longer care for themselves. We want our siblings to have mental health care because we do not want to lose one more person to suicide. And we want you to look in our eyes and open yourselves to our stories. We want you not only to read Jesus’ healing stories in the Bible but listen to the stories of the people who struggle with health insurance and their diseases. Jesus listened to them, and if you are a follower of Jesus, we ask that you follow the life of Jesus and create a system of affordable healing. Do not cut what is there; expand to ensure that all people have one less worry in their lives.
We are humans who don’t want to worry that if we lose a job or our jobs are cut to part time hours, we can still afford health insurance. And if we find ourselves without insurance, we will find a way to get back on it again. We don’t want to base our vocational choices on whether the job has insurance or not but rather base it on the question “is God calling me to this particular vocation”? We don’t want to avoid doctors because being diagnosed with something gives us a preexisting condition, and we don’t want to avoid doctors because we can’t afford to go. Prevention is the key to longer and healthier lives. Many of the people in the building behind us profess to be pro-life, but are they willing to prioritize tax cuts for the few instead of affordable care and quality of life for the many?
Anything could happen to us at any point. God wants us to make sure that when it’s our turn to get sick that we aren’t forgotten. So now is the time for us to speak. And call. And write.
All of this reminds me of when I was entering seminary: since I quit my full time job, I worked at getting health insurance. There was only so much I could afford, but I was able to get on a plan. I had to justify a couple of the health issues I had – one being my endometriosis. And the only insurance I could afford was without maternity. If I had gotten pregnant during this time, I would not have had maternity covered. If I wanted to plan to have a baby, I would have to add maternity on one year before I got pregnant, or else it would be a preexisting condition.
Maternity.… A preexisting condition.
But so many of my other seminary friends were forced without it. Some couldn’t afford it at all. Others were denied insurance for issues like allergies or being over or under weight. Whether they had insurance or not, some got sick. One had an appendicitis without insurance and another two hernia surgeries before they started a full-time call. The costs were high.
I’m not sure of the number of seminary students who can now afford insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act. But we ask that you don’t take this away from them. Or our next door neighbors. Or the part-time worker. Or the single parent working three part-time jobs. Or the person on disability. Or the elderly person needing Medicaid to stay in long-term care. Or the small business owner.
The Body of Christ is in pain because it can’t get the help it needs. It must suffer with ailments. It must put off medical tests. It must deal with the fatigue of pain. It’s time for the Body of Christ as well as our sisters and brothers of other faiths and who profess no faith to be well alongside of us. In order for that to happen, we need affordable health care for all.
And just like the stories of the people who Jesus healed have been told, it’s time for us to claim our stories too, our health care struggles, our worries about being able to afford healthcare whether we are on insurance or not, whether we are well or not, whether we are working or not. It’s time for our leaders to listen to our stories, to know that we are all broken and beautifully human, that we are made in the image of God.