|Taking chance of a lifetime for universal health care
Dr. Jeff Thill examines Geannie Figuereo at Shepherd's Hope Health
Center, a clinic that serves uninsured residents in Orlando, Fla. A
UMNS file photo by Tim Griffis.
A UMNS Commentary
By David Briggs*
June 17, 2009
Nurse Maureen Whitsett checks Rick Schultz’s blood pressure at the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic in St. Charles, Mo.
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
There are many faces in the debate over health care we will never
see: the mentally ill cast out onto the street to die, the child
victims of third-world infant mortality rates in U.S. cities, the
unemployed men and women who wait too long for cancer diagnoses.
Tracy Smith is one of those people, one I will never forget. In his
late 40s, Smith would sit in his car with heart pain while his two
beloved young children played in a Seattle park without him.
Lacking insurance, Smith suffered rather than endure the indignity
of facing a doctor whose first test would be the financial one of how
he would be able to pay for treatment. He finally made it to the
hospital in time to be treated for near-fatal atrial fibrillation.
But he still did not have the insurance or the $50,000 to pay for
the heart transplant he needed. His only hope was to wait for Medicare
to approve the funds for the operation. He died waiting.
Many Americans are still waiting for a health care system that is
not dependent on one’s ability to pay. In 1993, not long after Smith
died, the hopes of many who consider health care a human right faded
away when an ill-conceived effort for universal health care failed in
Now, for the first time in a generation, there is real hope that the
United States will make health care a right for all its people.
Karen Welch takes a patient's electrocardiogram at a faith-based free clinic in Eureka Springs, Ark.
A UMNS file photo by Suzie Bell.
President Obama is leading a national dialogue on universal health
care, attempting to transcend the political differences and economic
self-interest that sidetracked earlier efforts.
No one doubts that over the next few months, lobbyists for doctors,
health care companies, insurers and drug manufactures will make sure
their voices are heard, often placing their own financial well-being
over the common good. Never has it been more important for religious
voices to be heard.
In an effort to contribute to the dialogue, United Methodist News
Service invited several church members, from one of the nation’s most
prominent health leaders to doctors and nurses on the front lines, to
offer their reflections on how to heal our nation’s health care system.
Each of them reminds us to look beyond ourselves to recognize the suffering of others under the current health care system.
Best and worst of times
Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. surgeon general, asks Americans to
consider, “We are the richest country in the world and the only
industrialized country that does not provide health care for its entire
Irma Clark, a Chicago nurse, talks about the pain experienced by
millions even as the health care debate moves forward. “There is a lot
of pressure when you have to decide whether you should buy a loaf of
bread or fill your prescription for blood pressure medicine, and you
need both,” she writes.
Dr. Wayne Riley, president of United Methodist-related Meharry
Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., notes while it may be the best of
times in terms of medical advancements, “It is the worst of times
because lack of access has resulted in health disparities that
compromise the quality of life for those who are disenfranchised,
underrepresented, poor and-or uneducated.”
New ideas, new approaches are a moral imperative, they say.
Dr. Dan Bell, who co-founded a free medical clinic in Eureka
Springs, Ark., proposes the creation of a Federal Dental Corps because
multiple medical problems are spawned by bad teeth, and dental care is
harder to get than medical care.
Dr. Scott Morris, a family physician and executive director of the
Church Health Center in Memphis, Tenn., says the health care system
must lose its love affair with bigger and better technology and direct
resources toward developing general practitioners.
Your voice needed
Their voices alone are not enough, however. The nation and the church also need to hear from you.
We invite you to join the dialogue by posting your thoughts and
ideas on the end of this story or any of the stories in the “Healing
Health Care” package.
The Rev. Linda Walling, executive director of Faithful Reform in
Health Care, remembers that not everyone headed for the exits when the
Clinton plan failed in the early ’90s. The United Methodist Church and
the United Church of Christ never gave up, she said.
The memory of Tracy Smith and millions of others on the side of the road of the nation’s health care system will not let us.
*Briggs is news editor of United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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