Health Care Justice

In February 2006, I suffered an aortic aneurysm that nearly claimed my life. After emergency surgery to replace the bursting ascending aorta, I suffered Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome that forced the doctors to place me in a medicated coma for four weeks. After seven weeks in the hospital, and a month of recovery, another aneurysm was discovered that needed a second open-heart surgery. Later that same year, I had my chest opened up again by the world’s foremost surgeon of aortic reconstruction and valve replacements at the Cleveland Clinic. To say that I am extremely thankful for the quality of health care in the United States of America would be an understatement.

The United States is the best in the world in what is called “rescue care.” Not only are there top-tier hospitals like the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, and Johns Hopkins, but my local hospital (Canton’s Mercy Medical Center) was able to save my life when I suffered the trauma of my original aortic aneurysm. If you need advanced medical treatment – like cardiac surgery, or chemotherapy, or an organ transplant – America is the place to be.

But here’s the problem: Most health care is not “rescue care.” Most health care is helping people deal with illness on a day-to-day basis – dealing with diabetes or arthritis or a nagging pain in the abdomen, preventing small things from turning into big things, catching problems before they become major issues. This is where we keep people healthy. This is how we keep health care costs down. This is done by primary care doctors, not specialists.

And this is where America is bad. Really bad.

The New York Times reported that “[Nine] years ago, the World Health Organization made the first major effort to rank the health systems of 191 nations. France and Italy took the top two spots; the United States was a dismal 37th. More recently, the highly regarded Commonwealth Fund has pioneered in comparing the United States with other advanced nations through surveys of patients and doctors and analysis of other data. Its latest report ranked the United States last or next-to-last compared with five other nations — Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom — on most measures of performance, including quality of care and access to it. Other comparative studies also put the United States in a relatively bad light.”

Last year, Reuters reported that “France, Japan and Australia rated best and the United States worst in new rankings focusing on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions in 19 leading industrialized nations… If the U.S. health care system performed as well as those of those top three countries, there would be 101,000 fewer deaths in the United States per year, according to researchers writing in the journal Health Affairs.”

The response of Christians in the United States to this must be, “This is not God's will!” In a representative government, we should expect (and, with civility, demand) that our society reflect our Christian values – among these being liberty and justice for all, especially for those who are the “least of these.”

The poor do not have access to quality health care because health insurance has primarily been offered through employment. And if you are not employed, you simply can’t afford health insurance. This is why millions are attempting to live without it. And this is why America is lagging behind the world in quality of health care.

It is an injustice of biblical proportions that a wealthy nation like the United States is unable to offer its citizens quality health care. While the rich have access to primary care, the poor are relegated to the emergency rooms when their symptoms get so bad they can’t stand it anymore.

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