No Health Insurance? Hold on to the Bannister

September 17, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Those of you who drop in from time may remember the story of my broken wrists. Last April I fell down the steps of my parish church after the Palm Sunday vigil Mass and broke both wrists, one of them very badly, and knocked the hell out of a bunch of teeth as well. In the five months since then, four of those teeth have been wired together to keep them from breaking. Try eating corn on the cob with that arrangement.

I’m writing today to update you on my situation. Not that my little miseries matter awfully compared to the much larger disasters we’re facing nationally and internationally. In point of fact, though, it turns out that my little miseries overlap with one aspect of those larger disasters, and that’s what I’m writing about today.

My wrists are a whole lot better. I went twice a week for ten weeks to physical therapy, and did exercises for half an hour four times a day. Now I can pick up fairly heavy things, get the tops off most jars (my husband says I was actually pretty bad at this before the fall) and never wake up during the night with wrist pain. I still can’t get down on my hands and knees, but the surgeon says another five months (!) of exercises and I’ll be as good as new.

With my wrists vastly improved, I went Thursday to the dentist to get the story on my teeth. Now it’s time to hold your hat: the four implants or the bridge with gold crowns that I need to repair my teeth are going to cost between $11,000 and $14,000, of which our dental insurance will pay $1500 (minus three cleanings a year).  Now the surgery on my left wrist cost $23,000, but our health insurance, though mediocre, is much better than our dental insurance: it paid all but a $300 co-pay for the surgery. Our insurer, Oxford, is more enthusiastic about surgery than about physical therapy, though; the $50 co-pay for each of two wrist therapies a week for  ten weeks added $1000 to the wrist bill. To which we are now going to add $11-14,000 for teeth.

I don’t really mean to complain about this. As my shift-worker father, Joe Ronan, used to say, “Just be glad you have the money.” Which we do have, in our savings, thank God.

What I’m thinking about, though, and you may want to think about it too, is all the people in this country who couldn’t possibly afford all this money, the people without even mediocre health and dental insurance, for whom a fall like this would mean the end of life as they have known it. As the New York Times reported this week, there are a whole lot of these people, and more all the time. According to the Census Bureau, the number of uninsured people rose to 49.9 million last year, up from 49 million the previous year. And employment-related insurance, the foundation of the US health insurance system, dropped to 55%. Fortunately, the number of people covered by government insurance programs increased for the fourth year in a row, helping to mitigate the loss of other kinds of coverage. And the new health care law which President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi got through will expand Medicaid coverage for the poor and provide subsidies to help middle-income people buy private health insurance.

That’s if the Tea-Partiers don’t find some way to get that health care law repealed, or to eviscerate Medicaid by handing it off to the states, or in some other way. And if Americans aren’t so stupid as to express their anger by allowing the Tea-Partiers to do it.

But if the Tea-Partiers do succeed, and the American people let them, then the only advice I have for 49.9 million Americans and counting is this: be sure to hold onto the bannister when you’re going down the steps.

Kudos to Sister Carol and the NCR

January 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Last week, the National Catholic Reporter, the progressive US Catholic new source, named Sister Carol Keehan “person of the year” for 2010. Sister Carol, you may recall, is the head of the Catholic Health Association in the United States. By leading her organization to endorse the legislation, she and a number of other Catholic sisters involved with Network, the Catholic social justice lobby are widely credited with turning the tide in the battle for health care reform last year by calming fears that the proposed legislation would increase the number of abortions in the US. Many believe that Bart Stupak and other pro-life congresspeople changed their vote because of the sisters’ assurances.

I want to join the NCR in congratulating Sister Carol and the other Catholic sisters who took these brave actions. At any time, it’s risky for sisters in canonical congregations to take positions that seem to disagree with the bishops or the Vatican. In the middle of a Vatican investigation of US women’s congregations, as we in the US are just now, it could border on suicidal. But the sisters decided, as they have so many times in the past, that the needs of the poor–in this case, the millions in the US without health insurance–outweighed more pragmatic considerations. Throughout my entire life, women like Sister Carole have been my heroes.

The US bishops, of course, have not been enthusiastic about the sisters daring to speak for the church, if, in fact, that’s what they were doing. Throughout history bishops and popes have come down hard on women who dare to trespass on their authority. On Religion Dispatches today, Eugene McMullan weighs in on the current episode. Why don’t you check it out?

The Stupak Amendment

November 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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In writing this blog, I am violating one of the basic rules of survival in reform Catholic politics. That rule is “Never mention abortion.”

This is not to say that Catholics (and others) on the right and Catholics (and others) on the left don’t talk about abortion  a lot. In fact, almost all the time, it sometimes seems. But those of us in the middle, working to get women ordained, or to get the lectionary readings to be less sexist, or to get the bishops to pay more attention to peace and justice, tend to avoid it.

I remember when I was on the Women’s Ordination Conference Board of Directors, circa 1999. Something terrible happened to our national office–a fire or a flood or something.  Frances Kissling’s organization, Catholics for a Free Choice, whose offices were nearby, offered to let the WOC staff use their space. Or maybe they offered to let the board meet there. I can’t remember the details. What I do remember is how some of the board members reacted: better we should meet out on the sidewalk. In winter. We were to have nothing to do with those people. Period.

Now I should perhaps say that I am not an unambiguous advocate of abortion. I have never belonged to the “mere fetal tissue” camp. Something happens when women have abortions, something at the very least that most of them will remember and have feelings about for years to come. I would much prefer that women have easy access to contraception and sex education and not get pregnant in the first place.

But it is also the case that I am not a member of the “abortion is qualitatively different from all the other evils of the world” camp. I think that an early abortion is much less serious, than, for example, children in sub-Saharan Africa being allowed to starve to death or die of horrific diseases, (deaths we Americans could do a lot to stop with the trillion plus dollars we spend annually on war) .

That being said, it would appear that the Stupak amendment to the House version of the health care bill, passed on November 6, will make abortion considerably less available for a not insignificant number of women in the US.  Admittedly, as Jon Healey of the Los Angeles Times writes, the amendment would  “restrict only the new insurance marketplace (a.k.a. the “exchange”) that the bill would create for uninsured individuals and small businesses. It would have no direct effect on the group insurance policies that cover many American workers and their families.” And it may well not have much effect on very poor women, at least in the seventeen states that provide abortion coverage through Medicaid, or on women of means. (That last one’s a big surprise!) 

What the amendment does do, as Healey explains, is threaten the availability of insurance coverage for abortions for the working poor and lower middle class — “those who would receive subsidies under the House bill to buy insurance through the exchange: those making 150% to 400% of the federal poverty line — up to $43,000 for a single woman. ”

It’s also pretty clear that the  Bishops’  lobby and some Roman Catholic congressmen were pivotal in getting this amendment passed. During negotiations over the amendment, according to an article in the New York Times,

“…representatives of the nation’s bishops made clear they would fight the bill if there were not restrictions on abortion. In an extraordinary effort over the last 10 days, the bishops conference told priests across the country to talk about the legislation in church, mobilizing parishioners to contact Congress and to pray for the success of anti-abortion amendments.

“The bishops sent out information to be ‘announced at all Masses’ and included in parish bulletins, and urged priests and parishioners to tell House members: ‘Please support the Stupak Amendment that addresses essential pro-life concerns.’ They added: ‘If these serious concerns are not addressed, the final bill should be opposed.'”

I will leave you to think about this for yourself. But not, of course, without a few closing observations: 1) The US Catholic Bishops have been to a massive extent unsuccessful at “selling” the church’s position on contraception and abortion to American Catholic women. The last time I checked, Catholic women got abortions at exactly the same rate as other American women.    2) They are also unable to do anything about Americans in upper-middle and upper income brackets having abortions so 3) They have decided to do all they can to prevent women who earn $43,000 and under from having abortions and 4) If they don’t get what they want in this regard, they will do everything they can to defeat legislation that would provide coverage for something on the order of forty million Americans currently without health insurance.

As I said, I will leave you to think about this for yourself.

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