Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Hidden Costs of the Healthcare Crisis

I wrote and delivered this piece as the Credo for the August 9, 2009, service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

Horror stories about the healthcare system are disturbingly commonplace at this point. Families bankrupted by hospital bills. Seniors taking less than their prescribed dosages because they have to make their medications last. That guy in the Michael Moore movie who had to decide which of two severed fingers to repair after an accident because he didn't have insurance and couldn't afford both; even the "cheap" one was $12,000.

Growing up, my family only went to the doctor if it was serious. If that cough wasn't a likely symptom of tuberculosis, then you took some Comtrex and got back out there. It wasn't until I lived in Germany that I even imagined another possibility. I'd been hanging out with a friend who twisted his ankle, and he decided to go to the doctor, just to make sure it was okay. "Just to make sure it was okay." This was a foreign language to me in more than one way.

But what I want to focus on today are the hidden costs of our healthcare crisis. They're not financial, though. I'm talking about the reluctance to spend political capital on anything else while health insurance reform is on the table -- and the spiritual cost of doing so.

One example I take very personally is the backpedaling on Obama's promises to the LGBT community. With everything this administration was handed, I was willing to have some patience. But things started to go off the rails pretty quickly. A blatant homophobe invited to give the inaugural invocation. No stop-loss order to prevent more "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" discharges. The Department of Justice's horrendous brief supporting DOMA and the White House's tone-deaf reaction to the justifiable anger that ensued.

There are other examples, but the most stark one -- and as an American, I take this personally as well -- is torture. We've already got evidence that war crimes were committed under the previous administration. Dick Cheney has done an entire media tour admitting to it. Yet the White House has focused on "moving forward" and wants us to believe that a new policy about not torturing people is sufficient. By this logic, any crime that was committed in the past shouldn’t be prosecuted. "Well, that jewel heist was last year, and we're not stealing any more, so let's just move forward."

I hope the Attorney General will end up making a different choice, but think about that: the special interests fighting health insurance reform are so entrenched, the opposition so intractable, the fear of repeating the failure of the Clinton Administration so great, that just one line item in the price we're paying is not even investigating documented torture.

This is a nation composed of people who time and again have shown deep compassion when faced with human suffering. So how have our priorities become so warped that affordable and accessible healthcare isn't the default? Isn't that exactly the kind of help a government should provide its people? And how has torture, the absolute opposite of compassion, become an acceptable bartering chip for anything?

I see us in danger of becoming a country that's willing to sell off parts of our soul as the cost of getting things done. The thing is, though, souls don't work like that. I can't use parts of your essence to fill holes in me -- it's like the frequencies don't match. Similarly, we can't excuse torture to gain points for healthcare. All we're doing is creating another rupture in the spirit politic.

Soul loss is serious. It's a spiritual illness that can manifest in physical and emotional symptoms. You can hear it in the language people use when they've suffered soul loss: "I feel like part of me is missing." "I don't feel like I'm really here." How do the consequences multiply when this illness strikes not just an individual, but an entire nation? Healthcare is a critical issue, but it can't be an altar upon which we sacrifice our very essence.

I believe the hunger we saw for change last year was our country's collective soul reaching towards healing. After the spiritual damage of the previous eight years, it couldn't come a moment too soon. But I'm also seeing signs that warn of more soul loss -- like people are watching their hope headed for a major car crash, and they're starting to leave so they won't fully experience the pain.

I know that if I allow myself to fall away into cynicism, I'll be giving up part of myself. And I'll have even fewer resources to draw on as we deal with the crises in front of us right now.

As a first but vital step, I invite you to ask any parts of your soul that have hidden themselves for safe keeping to return to help you. The gifts they bring back will be immeasurable, and are immeasurably needed, not just for your sake but for all of us. Creativity. Integrity. Energy. Joy. Vision. What will yours bring back?

All healing starts right here. I hope it won't be the only healthcare plan I can afford, but it's one that will help me mend everything else.

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Anonymous Thomas Atwood said...

Lindasusan -

As a former worship associate at UUCSF, I was moved by your comments about soul loss. What price are we prepared to pay to feel better only temporarily, if at all?

I continue to hope that health care reform will have sufficient substance to open the door for future progressive accomplishments like those you mentioned. In any case, we will continue the difficult work of transforming intellect into action, finding common ground, and organizing in great enough numbers to make a difference.

You're a fine writer, and I hope to read more of your work.

Take care,

Thomas Atwood
UU Fellowship of Redwood City
UU Legislative Ministry

10:19 AM  

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