~ Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.” — The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964)
When they were younger, my children would ask, “Were you alive, Mom, when blacks and whites actually went to different schools? Or sat in different places on buses? Does that mean Andrew or Ashley couldn’t have been my friends?”
Sadly, my answer to those questions was always a painful “yes,” and I’m grateful that my children have grown up in a very different time. However, even as we far as we’ve come, we are aware that many barriers to equality still exist.
In 1964, civil rights workers in the South found it difficult to find medical care. Many hospitals and white doctors not only refused to treat blacks, they also feared treating whites who were working on their behalf. In response, volunteer medical providers, psychologists, and social workers founded the Medical Committee for Human Rights, went to the South to provide the needed services and took action to assess and help meet the unmet medical needs of black communities. It was a convention of this group that Dr. King addressed with the words noted above.
Over 40 years later, things are different, and, regrettably, things are the same. Still we live in a nation where the color of our skin too often determines whether or not we get needed health care. The circumstances are much more subtle, but the realities are the same. If we are black, Hispanic or Asian, we are disproportionately more likely to be low-income workers with no health insurance. Diagnoses and treatments vary by skin color, regardless of insurance coverage, and health outcomes vary accordingly. Excessive requirements to prove citizenship create barriers for citizens and non-citizens alike.
For some who are reading this, these words may sound familiar. Partly by request, and partly by circumstance, much of it IS a repeat of last year’s message to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King. A year ago at this time we were awaiting the Senate’s vote to re-authorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. This year we are on the brink of an historic opportunity to halt the injustice of U.S. health care.
As people of faith we know this is so much more than just a partisan political battle. It is a struggle to define who we are as a nation. Will we bind ourselves to the values of community, compassion and generosity for all? Or will we allow ourselves to be driven by those whose values are motivated by the fear, distrust, and self-interests of a few? Can we say “no” to those who judge some to be “undeserving” — and then hold firm to a vision of what we know to be good for all of us?
We will have the chance to answer those questions in the days ahead. If we really want to keep alive the dream of Dr. King, may our prayer for this day be for the vision and courage to truly create a beloved community — a nation where all barriers to health, wholeness, and human dignity are brought down.