By Galen Carey
Director of Government Affairs
National Association of Evangelicals
Earlier this year my wife was diagnosed with lung cancer. At the time we were working with World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, in Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world with virtually no modern medical personnel or facilities. Thanks to World Relief’s excellent insurance plan, my wife was able to get first-class treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She is now well on the road to recovery. The list price for her surgery and care came to over $60,000, but this was heavily discounted by the PPO network agreement, and after insurance reimbursement our out-of-pocket costs were less than $2,000.
Like other Americans, I have watched my health insurance premiums rise into the stratosphere: our family health insurance cost more in 2008 than my entire salary when I joined World Relief in 1983. Even so, our family insurance does not cover our 20-year-old son, who lives at home and is not a full-time student. If my son had required the same care, he would likely not have been accepted at Hopkins, and his treatment would have bankrupted our family.
My experience does not make me an expert in health care reform, but it does make me acutely aware of what is at stake in the current debate. Millions of Americans are one health crisis away from insolvency. Since the failed attempt at health reform in the early nineties, the ranks of the uninsured have grown dramatically. No one seriously believes that our current trajectory is sustainable. A majority of Americans, like me, are happy with their current insurance, but what happens when we can no longer afford the coverage to which we have become accustomed?
The health care debate has not brought out the best in us. Few politicians have had the courage to level honestly with their constituents. Instead, they pander. They promise the undeliverable, or they threaten the unthinkable. We cannot afford everything in health care just as we can’t sign a blank check for education, housing, or the arts. But we certainly can afford to do better than we have in the area of making basic health care affordable for all Americans.
Life is about making choices. Making intelligent choices depends on an informed and civil dialogue that takes the best ideas from all quarters. Refusing to accept unpleasant realities does not make them go away. When the debate degenerates into fear mongering and undignified shouting matches, we all lose.
Meanwhile in one of the ultimate ironies, health reform has come to represent a profound threat to the most vulnerable among us: those not yet born. As the National Association of Evangelicals stated very clearly in its 1994 resolution on health care reform, abortion is not health care. There may be a currently recognized legal right to abortion, but there is surely no right to compel taxpayers or health care workers to violate their conscience by paying for or participating in what they believe to be murder. Some of the current proposals in the Congress purport to be abortion neutral, but unless amended further, they could lead to a major increase in the number of abortions performed in the United States. This would be a deal breaker for many Americans, myself included, who care deeply about health care reform but who are committed to the protection of human life at all stages.
Galen Carey is Director of Government Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.