On Tuesday, her jaw pounding like a bass drum in a marching band, my wife, Deborah, went to the endodontist for a root canal procedure. But before the dentist would see her, the receptionist asked her to sign a form guaranteeing payment that day of the full $890 fee. When she complained, the receptionist apologized. "Oh," she said, "that's only for patients without insurance." Deborah was grateful that she had insurance so her pain could be relieved. But what about those without insurance, 80 percent of whom are employed or dependents of workers? And what about those with insurance whose companies constantly deny care in order to increase profits?
Last fall a new effort, the Universal Health Care 2000 (U2K) Campaign, was launched with faith-based participation. Its purpose was to put universal health care on the nation's agenda by the 2000 elections. The time was ripe. More and more people could see that managed health care was not working. Changes in the health care system were hitting the great middle class. A million more persons each year were losing their health insurance. Even physician professional groups were calling for universal health care.
Now, a year later, health care reform IS a major national issue. The U2K Campaign has taken off. It calls for a national guarantee of comprehensive, affordable, and publicly-accountable quality health care for all. More than 450 groups and thousands of individuals have endorsed it. More and more persons visit the U2K website www.u2kcampaign.org each week. Hundreds of churches will observe Health Care Justice Week, Oct. 13-22.
For years the faith community has been a crucial part of this effort. In 1975, for example, the UCC's General Synod 10 called for action addressing "the total health care system of the nation." In 1991, General Synod 18 declared the nation's health care system to be "in crisis" and called for "a universal health care system in the United States."
Health care is a justice issue. Our Biblical imperatives are clear. Jesus not only healed persons wherever he went, but he challenged society's assumptions that those in poor health had only themselves to blame. Our church history is clear. Churches have not only set up hospitals and agencies of healing but have encouraged society as a whole to be responsible for the health of all.
With Election Day only weeks away, the U2K Campaign urges people of faith to:
Pray for those without access to our national's health care resources.
Study the issues, tell others what you learn and vote responsibly.
Volunteer at a health care facility that serves the under-served.
Ask national candidates: If elected, will you join the newly-formed, non-partisan Congressional Task Force on Universal Health Care?
Our national health care system is sick. As General Synod 18 put it, "As the church, we are called to hear the cry, feel the pain, work to find the resources and respond with care until recovery is completed."
The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor of the national edition of United Church News.