Health Care is a Universal Need

After hearing from 114 Filipino clergy and laypersons the past 10 days a common theme emerged. Everyone needs access to health care and the older we get, the more urgently we need it.

We were in the Philippines to hear from retirees about their pension plans butpensions are not the only thing on their minds. Pension needs are extremely important. Many of these folks live below the survival level and this is beyond excusable, especially for those who have given a lifetime serving others through ministry. It’s an injustice that clergy and lay workers in The United Methodist Church outside the United States don’t have the same security and opportunity to live with dignity in their retirement that those in the U.S. have. This must be addressed,and fortunately, the pension board of the church is beginning to do so.

But among lingering unaddressed issues is access to health care. It is extremely frustrating to hear people who need eye surgery, kidney transplants and other treatments say they can’t get the care they need because they have no health insurance and no money to pay for medical care.

We heard three pastors and spouses say they are losing their eyesight but can’t afford the costs of relatively simple surgery for cataracts. Others could benefit from common procedures in the U.S. that are beyond reach in the Philippines.

This is a moral concern in addition to an issue of justice and equity. Upon return to the U.S., I was frustrated to read that President Bush has, for the second time, vetoed health care for children in the U.S.

Health care should not be a political football, but it is. The President’s political agenda tilts in favor of the existing market-based system. And he’s intent on making middle income families pay for health care. To do this he’s willing to deny access to poor children.

But health care in the U.S. is also more costly than the national systems in other developed nations, which tests the credibility of the claim that marketplace competition keeps costs lower and results in better care.

Writing in the New York Times of a post partum procedure, perineal re-education, Pamela Druckerman illustrates the differences between the French system and ours. Druckerman says the French consider it in the national interest to “make mothers new” after giving birth by offering therapy and training to shape the stretched birth canal. So the government antes up 60% of the cost of perineal re-education.

The procedure isn’t commonly offerred in the U.S. and might be considered a luxury. But Druckerman cites a World Health Organization report that the French spent “$3,464 per person on health care in 2004, compared with $6,096 in the United States. Yet Frenchmen live on average two years longer than American men do, and Frenchwomen live four years longer. The infant mortality rate in France is 43 percent lower than in the United States.” The French system offer better results, lower costs and offers a rehabilitative procedure not routinely offerred in the U.S.

Ironically, President Bush supported universal health care for Iraqis at a cost of $950 million in 2004 and the rationale was based on lack of access. If access is right for Iraq, it logically follows that access to basic health care should be a right enjoyed by everyone, Filipino or U.S. citizen.

The world has said as much in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But we still have a long way to go.

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