By Lou Kavar
“There was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse” (Mark 5: 25-26).
Their web site describes their mission. They “provide free medical care to people in remote areas around the world…” They’ve sponsored expeditions with doctors, dentists, nurses and other health care professionals to provide care in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, East Africa, India, Nepal and many other countries – serving those with no other option for health care. In Guyana, they have established a permanent base of operations. Remote Area Medical has pioneered no cost medical care, touching the lives of people who have no hope for other treatment.
While it is understandable that Remote Area Medical provides free health care to people in under-developed, impoverished countries, Americans should be scandalized to know that Remote Area Medical has a year round schedule to provide care to people in the United States. Yes, in the richest country in the world, in the country which brags of having the “best” healthcare in the world, American citizens line up and wait for free medical care because they have no other option.
From August 11 to 18, 2009, Remote Area Medical held clinic hours in the “remote” area of Los Angeles County. People slept in the streets overnight, lining up for health care services which they longed to receive for years. Various newspaper and TV reports recounted stories of people waiting in line to receive treatment from chronic and severe conditions. One woman stated that if her child did not receive eye glasses from Remote Area Medical, the child would have had none.
While people waited in the streets of Inglewood, Calif. for medical care, vocal, angry, and hate-filled debates ensued in other parts of the United States over health care reform. A public health care option for those in need was labeled as socialism, communism, and Nazism – often by the same commentators.
“She came up behind Jesus and touched his cloak, saying to herself, ‘If I only touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (Mark 5:2-29).
Like the woman two millennia ago, people are pushing through crowds hoping to find help and healing for serious medical conditions. While Jesus was a willing conduit for this woman’s healing, many of the followers of Jesus today actively work to block access of those in need to health care. What’s even more scandalous is that many of these same people insist that America was founded as a “Christian nation” yet they vigorously oppose helping those in need through a public option for health care.
The government funded public healthcare option does nothing more than provide a competitive option to for-profit healthcare insurance. It is not socialized medicine. It would merely be one option people could choose for health insurance. Further, the U.S. government has been in the business of healthcare for generations. The largest healthcare provider in the United States is the Veterans Administration. Further, government funded programs provide consistent resources for seniors (Medicare), the economically disadvantages (Medicaid), and to other specific populations through federal and state funded programs. Such a program is not substantively different from the federal government providing flood insurance because for-profit companies do not provide such coverage or the state of Florida providing homeowners insurance because the cost of such coverage from private companies has grown too expensive.
In the midst of this scandalous health care debate marked by demonstrations of fear, anger, and hysteria, the bumper-sticker theological question of the 1990’s comes to mind: What would Jesus do? Jesus acknowledged the woman’s need – and her touch. She was healed. Jesus would open avenues for health, healing and wholeness. Jesus would work to assure that those without care, without advocates, without hope would be treated with dignity.