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United Methodists struggle with health care reform

 Danaya Blanks of Nashville, Tenn., knows that she and her two children, Kyra, 10, and Trace, 16 months, are fortunate to be healthy. But she also knows many who are unemployed and uninsured. “I am all for health care reform,” she said.
UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
August 19, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Danaya Blanks, 30, smiles as her children, 16-month-old Trace, and 10-year-old Kyra, play tag on the front lawn of her tidy gray house.

Today all is well. No one is sick, and Blanks has a job with health insurance.

But the single mother does not take her blessings for granted. Blanks, who is able to afford only minimum coverage, knows she is only a major illness or lost job away from being in the same situation as some of her fellow members of Hobson United Methodist Church, where many folks are homeless, unemployed and uninsured.

“I am all for health care reform,” she said. “It seems the middle class has disappeared-- there are either the very poor or the very wealthy. I am doing what I can to take care of my kids, and I thank God we are healthy. If there were reasons for me to go to the doctor all the time, or if we had prescriptions we needed all the time, I would be broke.”

That is why Blanks, like many United Methodists interviewed across the country, supports universal health care. Yet like other Americans in the national debate, United Methodists also struggle with how best to provide basic, affordable health care.

On Aug. 19, President Obama will participate in a live webcast call-in aimed at the faith community. Faith leaders in the 40-minute discussion will include three United Methodist pastors: the Rev. Stephen Copley, a pastor in Little Rock, Ark., working with Justice for Our Neighbors; the Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan.; and the Rev. Cory Sparks, pastor of Faith Community United Methodist Church in Lafayette, La. Listeners will have an opportunity to ask questions and then join a grassroots effort to urge Congress to make quality health care affordable and accessible for all.

The United Methodist Church states in the Book of Discipline, which sets forth the laws and beliefs of the denomination, that it is a “governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.”

The path to consensus will not be easy, but it is a struggle the nation is called to undertake, many United Methodists say.

Need for reform

The cost of health care is very much on the mind of Rocio Martinez, a native of Mexico living in Nashville and a member of Hillcrest United Methodist Church. She is self-employed and feels all her earnings go toward paying for health insurance.

“We need an affordable and just health care system,” says Rocio Martinez of Hillcrest United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn.

“Health care reform is going to be expensive, but we all should be able to pay according to our earnings,” she said. “I will pay my part, but everybody should be able to have insurance and use it when they need it.”

Rocio worries when she thinks of the people who live in this country and do not have resident status. “What about those persons who work, pay taxes, but do not have papers? We need an affordable and just health care system.”

Victor Nolazco, a member of El Amor de Dios United Methodist Church in Nashville, wonders why other countries have universal health plans while the United States does not.

“A growing nation should show its growth through its public health as well,” he said. “It means progress. If we are headed in the right direction, then it’s not an option whether to offer basic health insurance or not.”

Cindy Burns, 51, a member of Hobson, knows a lot of people who have nothing to fall back on when they get sick.

“I know senior citizens who buy enough pills to take one a day even though their doctor has prescribed three a day. They have to choose between food and medicine,” she said. “It feels terrible when you are turned down at a hospital because you don’t have the right kind of insurance. I believe health care should be given to everybody; there shouldn’t be any limitations.”

Competing goods

Some United Methodists are concerned that reform proposals may end up worsening U.S. health care, or restricting religious freedom on ethically objectionable practices.

Mark Smith, an optometrist and member of Pine Mountain (Ga.) First United Methodist Church, said people need to read the proposed health care bill and “stop falling for the rhetoric of any particular side.”

Smith wrote a letter to the editor responding to a column written by Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, who has been outspoken in his support of President Obama’s initiatives.

Cindy Burns, a member of Hobson United Methodist Church, believes “health care should be given to everybody, there shouldn’t be any limitations.”

“Recent comments about health care reform have conclusively asserted that ‘none of the plans being discussed by Congress resembles the Canadian Health Care system’ and that ‘none’ of them ‘promotes euthanasia or pays for abortions.’ Really? Experts conclude that HR 3200 sets up a system that incentivizes employers to drop health coverage for employees since providing such coverage may cost more than dumping the employees into the public system. This whole scheme appears slanted to allow the emergence of a single payer, government system, which Barack Obama clearly said he was in favor of before he became president.”

Lana Hennen said she and her husband are faithful members of Harleton (Texas) United Methodist Church and she thinks the church should not be involved in politics.

“The church should not take a position either way on an issue that is so sensitive to its members. We are not a political body, and this is not a religious issue. Neither my husband nor I is obviously for the health care bill as it is proposed. It is really a test of faith when the church you love takes a stand against you,” she said.

At Capitol Hill United Methodist Church, in sight of the U.S. Capitol building, Tom, a homeless man, sometimes lives on the church stoop. Sam Marullo, a seminarian at United Methodist Wesley Theological Seminary, and his wife, Sue, teach a Sunday school class attended by Tom and other homeless people.

“I think some people are scared, and maybe legitimately so,” Marullo said. “If somehow the health care system turns into a place where the quality of care is negatively affected, I’d be scared of that.”

But, he added, “As Christians, we’ve got to think about how in God’s kingdom there is enough for everybody.”

Too much fear

Other United Methodists expressed concern the debate has been sidetracked by “fear mongering.”

Brett Kling appreciates President Barack
Obama’s approach.

“I am liking how Obama has come out and said this will provide more things for people, provide choice, we are not going to conspire against you to have you killed when it comes to the end of your life,” said Brett Kling, 30, a graduate student at Middle Tennessee State University.

“Rabble rousers” in town hall meetings are preventing real conversations, said Dave Stoeve, an elementary school principal and member of Spirit Song United Methodist Fellowship in North Peoria, Ariz.

“I would like to see cost containment established for everyone and a way for those without insurance to be able to be insured at a reasonable cost,” he said.

Anthony Fatta, 22, a divinity school student at Vanderbilt University, said the government needs to turn its attention to wellness.

“I think the federal government should be working more toward programs enhancing wellness among its citizens. Health care is less of an issue if you keep people eating right and exercising. We need to make sure the cheapest food is not the unhealthiest.”

Human cost

Consider the costs of not reforming health care, some church members said.

George Oeser, 39, a member of Hobson, is a full-time employee at a small business that cannot afford to offer health care. He has Type 1 diabetes and gets most of his medical supplies because he is part of a research project on diabetes.

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Others in his family also face difficult choices. His brother is blind and is a kidney and liver transplant patient who is covered under their father’s health insurance.

“He has a college degree, but he can’t get a job because if he gets employed he will lose his insurance,” Oeser said. “He has to choose between going to work or dying. I have been watching the debate. I don’t know how Christians can be against health care reform just because it might cost us something and we are not willing to make the sacrifice.”

Sonja Beasley, 30, a teacher in Nashville and also a member of Hobson, sees daily what happens to those without health insurance in her second-grade classroom.

“So many of my children don’t have insurance. Their parents are struggling. I’ve been blessed to always have had insurance,” Beasley said. “The health care debate has been hard to take it all in, but I know something needs to be done. So many children are suffering.”

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn. Contributors to this story were Melissa Lauber, editor of “UM Connection” for the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference; Stephen J. Hustedt, director of communications, Desert Southwest Annual Conference; and Amanda M. Bachus, director of Spanish resources and editor of “el Interprete” magazine, United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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