Remembering The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 18, 2010

~ 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.

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Faith-based organizations show support for health care for legal immigrants

September 14, 2009

~ by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

The timing could not have been better!  On Friday, September 11, nearly 40 faith-based organizations sent a letter to President Obama and all members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives urging that legal immigrants and other vulnerable immigrant populations be included in any national health care plan enacted by Congress.  Protestant Christians, the Catholic Bishops and religious orders, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists affirmed together that “the provision of health care is a shared responsibility grounded in the sacred act of creation and our common humanity.  Universal teachings within the scriptural texts of our diverse faith communities call us to welcome strangers and compassionately care for their basic human needs – including health care.”  View the letter

Health care reform proposals currently impose a five-year waiting period for legal immigrants to receive federal benefits; funding for benefits for undocumented immigrants is explicitly prohibited.  Now, in the wake of an ugly and disrespectful outburst from a member of Congress, there is a move to impose excessive citizenship documentation for federal health care benefits, which historically has done more to create barriers for racial and ethnic minority citizens than serve its intended purpose.  And a big disappointment is that the White House pronounced that undocumented immigrants would not be allowed to purchase health insurance in the proposed exchange — even if paying full price with no government subsidy.  (Are they aware of how many undocumented immigrants already buy their own insurance who could end up uninsured by this action?)

By sending this letter to our President and members of Congress, people of faith seek to rectify the injustice of denying access to health care for legal immigrants and their families.  We affirm that legal immigrants contribute to society, work hard,  pay all the taxes required of citizens, and desire to pay their fair share for affordable health care.  We recognize that uninsured immigrants, like uninsured citizens, are vulnerable.  With no access to preventative care, they too often have to rely on emergency-room care, which is always more expensive and is often too late.  We understand that providing access to health care would ensure healthier immigrant communities, would drive down the cost of uncompensated care, and ultimately would contribute to savings for all of us.  But most important, we ensure that they have what they need in order to live out the fullness of their sacred potential as individuals and as contributing members of our society.

Isn’t it time that we enact public policy based on compassion and justice, not on hate and bigotry?  And isn’t it time that we embrace the heart of ONE human family and, in doing so, reclaim the soul of our nation?

The letter is available as a Word document online for advocates to print and share in communications with their Members of Congress.