EPPN Lent Reflection: A broken system

By Matthew Ellis
Posted Mar 19, 2012

[Episcopal Public Policy Network] The reflection this week comes from Matthew Ellis, CEO of National Episcopal Health Ministries and executive director of National Episcopal AIDS Coalition and Episcopal Community Services in America.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our
indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.
(The Litany of Penitence, BCP)

As I reflect on the Litany of Repentance, I think about our nation’s struggle to find a solution to rising health care costs. As Christians, we are called to a ministry of healing. Unfortunately, our current health care system often fails to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our society.

In my own life, several people close to me have delayed seeking medical treatment within the last year due in large part to fear of cost.

One friend had a quintuple bypass that saved his life. Even though he had not been feeling well and his doctor had suggested additional tests, he waited until midnight of his eligibility date for Medicare before finally going to the emergency room. It was only upon waking after emergency surgery that he realized how close he had come to never seeing his family again.

A single father delayed additional tests for possible colon cancer because he was between jobs and without insurance. Thankfully, he eventually found work and was able to get the tests that ultimately proved negative.

These stories of delayed treatment due to cost (actual or perceived) are not uncommon. In a society where the ability to access health care is too often dependent on our employment status, it is self-evident that the most vulnerable among us will often be discouraged or outright prevented from seeking treatment for illness or disease, not to mention preventive care.

This inability to access routine health care means that many place a tremendous burden on the health care system by seeking treatment in the most expensive ways — whether it be a trip to the emergency room for non-emergency treatment or delaying care until an illness that could have been easily treated earlier becomes a legitimate emergency. This has a cascading effect in our society via the impact on family, employment and additional cost of care, among others.

When our health care system’s ability to take care of those who need help is determined primarily by an individual’s financial means at that moment, then it is broken and must be repaired as a moral imperative.

Faithful Reform in Health Care has identified the following vision for our health care system. Their vision is that our system will be:

  • Inclusive: Health care is a shared responsibility that is grounded in our common humanity.
  • Affordable: Health care must contribute to the common good by being affordable for individuals, families and society as a whole.
  • Accessible: All persons should have access to health services that provide necessary care and contribute to wellness.
  • Accountable: Our health care system must be accountable, offering a quality, equitable and sustainable means of keeping us healthy as individuals and as a community.

General Convention Resolutions:

1994-A057 Adopt Church Principles on Access to Health Care
1991-A099 Call for a System of Universal Access to Health Care
2000-A078 Call on Lawmakers and Physicians to Provide Adequate and Comprehensive Hospice and Palliative Care

5 Facts About the Uninsured:

  1. Most of the nation’s 49.1 million uninsured are low- or moderate-income.
  2. More than three-quarters of the uninsured are in a working family.
  3. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) prevent more people, particularly children, from becoming uninsured.
  4. About one-quarter of uninsured adults go without needed care due to cost compared to only four percent of those with private insurance.
  5. Medical bills are a burden for the uninsured and frequently leave them with debt.