Monday, August 31, 2009

CAN'T PREACH RESPONSIBILITY

Vaclav Havel calls it like it is: serving the greater good must transcend self-interest

"There is such an enormous gap between our words and deeds! Everyone talks about freedom, democracy, justice, human rights, and peace; but at the same time, everyone, more or less, consciously or unconsciously, serves those values and ideals only to the extent necessary to defend and serve his own interests, and those of his group or his state. Who should break this vicious circle? Responsibility cannot be preached: it can only be borne, and the only possible place to begin is with oneself." -- Vaclav Havel
In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

SOLITUDE AND RELATIONSHIPS

The measure of your solitude is the measure of your capacity for communion, says Henri Nouwen

"Without solitude there can be no real people. The more you discover what a person is, and experience what human relationship requires in order to remain profound, fruitful, and a source of growth and development, the more you discover that you are alone, and that the measure of your solitude is the measure of your capacity for communion."

"The measure of your awareness of God’s transcendent call to each person is the measure of your capacity for intimacy with others. If you do not realize that the persons to whom you are relating are each called to an eternal transcendent relationship that transcends everything else, how can you relate intimately to another at his or her center from your center?"

-- Henri Nouwen in The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery (Doubleday, 1976)
In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

MY FAVORITE TED KENNEDY QUOTE

I appreciate the perspective and political manner of Ted Kennedy
The more our feelings diverge, the more deeply felt they are, the greater is our obligation to grant the sincerity and essential decency of our fellow citizens on the other side. . . .
 In short, I hope for an America where neither “fundamentalist” nor “humanist” will be a dirty word, but a fair description of the different ways in which people of good will look at life and into their own souls.
I hope for an America where no president, no public official, no individual will ever be deemed a greater or lesser American because of religious doubt — or religious belief.
 
I hope for an America where the power of faith will always burn brightly, but where no modern inquisition of any kind will ever light the fires of fear, coercion, or angry division.
I hope for an America where we can all contend freely and vigorously, but where we will treasure and guard those standards of civility which alone make this nation safe for both democracy and diversity.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Friday, August 28, 2009

FIVE MYTHS ABOUT HEALTH CARE AROUND THE WORLD

This piece by T. R. Reid dispels hysteria about "socialized medicine" in other countries

I wish everyone would read this piece posted on Oregon Live.  It dispels hysteria and misinformation that is being circulated and repeated regarding the nature of medicine practiced in other industrialized nations. The fear of "socialized medicine" has become a unwarranted concern in the American health care reform dialog.  T. R. Reid puts those fears to rest.  Here's some of the truth, friends, we need to be seeking and heading...and speaking.

Here are the five myths:

1. It's all socialized medicine out there.
2. Overseas, care is rationed through limited choices and long lines.
3. Foreign health care systems are inefficient, bloated bureaucracies.
4. Cost controls stifle innovation.
4. Health insurance has to be cruel.

And here's the link to the full story that dispels these wrong-headed assumptions.


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

FAITH & HEALTH-CARE REFORM ONLINE RESOURCES

I've been talking and writing about health-care reform: here are some online links and resources

MEDIA COVERAGE.  Lately, I've been talking and writing about the positive relationship between faith and health reform. I am advocating for quality, accessible, affordable health care for all. I am trying to encourage my fellow Christian believers and ministers to conduct truth-seeking, truth-speaking conversations about it and to lift up the Biblical examples of caring for the health of all.

LINKS AS RESOURCES FOR DIALOG.  Below are links to some of the things I've posted or stories about my perspective or interviews with me that have been posted at various locations over the past three weeks.  I share these because they contain ideas, perspective, and Biblical touchstones for discussing health care reform in the context of faith communities.

WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT?  In addition, I am available to talk with pastors or church groups about health care reform.  You may contact me at johnhayjr@sbcglobal.net. :

My Bikehiker blogposts on health-care reform:

The truth in response to the viral e-mail full of misinformation.
Links to faith-based organizations advocating for health-care reform.
Five Christian Considerations for Health-Care Reform.
The Samaritan Imperative and The Role of Government.
Can We Get Beyond Bias?
Dallas Willard on Wealth and Poverty


Sojourners "God's Politics" blog posted my "Five Christian Considerations for Health-Care Reform":

The article was re-posted to the UrbanFaith.com website
 
NUVO Newsweekly, Indianapolis alternative newspaper posted my interview with editor David Hoppe:

The Indianapolis Star ran a front-page story and quoted me:

Everyday Christian website posted an article based in part on an interview with me:

The Indianapolis Star ran a Metro-State front-page story that quoted me:

Local CBS Affiliate WISH-TV 13 ran a story based partly on an interview with me

http://bikehiker.blogspot.com/2009/08/join-faith-call-in-on-health-reform.html


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

FROM SELF-PITY TO SERVICE


Alan Paton reflects on St. Francis of Assisi’s profound prayer


INSTRUMENT OF THY PEACE. While looking for another book at the Interim Central Library in downtown Indianapolis, I came across a volume by Alan Paton, most noted as author of Cry, the Beloved Country.  I've since been reading Instrument of Thy Peace (Seabury Press, 1968), which is a series of reflections on St. Francis of Assisi's well-known, often-quoted prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pard'ning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life!

SELF-PITY COMES TO AN END. Paton writes of St. Francis' prayer: "When I pray his prayer, or even remember it, my melancholy is dispelled, my self-pity comes to an end, my faith is restored, because of this majestic conception of what the work of a disciple should be....Life is no longer nasty, mean, brutish, and short, but becomes the time that one needs to make it less nasty and mean, not only for others, but indeed also for oneself."

THROW OFF HELPLESSNESS. He goes on: "This is the only way in which a Christian can encounter hatred, injury, despair and sadness, and that is by throwing off one's helplessness and allowing oneself to be made the bearer of love, the pardoner, the bringer of hope, the comforter of those who grieve."

OPEN MY EYES AND EARS. At the end of each reflection/chapter, Paton pens a prayer. Here's a particularly poignant one:

"O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the need of others,
open my ears that I may hear their cries,
open my heart so that they need not be without succor,
let me be not afraid to defend the weak
because of the anger of the strong,
nor afraid to defend the poor
because of the anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
and use me to bring them to those places.
And so open my eyes and my ears
that I may this coming day be able to
do some work of peace for You.
Amen."

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

THE SAMARITAN IMPERATIVE AND THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

If the Samaritan is the moral imperative for universal health care, what is the role of government? 

"YES...BUT" I post the simple assertion that the good Samaritan story represents to the Christian community the call to respond, out of our neighborly sensitivity and ability, to all who are desperately hurting and dying.  The response from some has been: "but that means it's our responsibility, not the government's responsibility."  Without pressing to see how these who so protest are, in fact, responding to their neighbors who are struggling for life in a health care system that is drowning them, I think it might be helpful to reflect a bit more on the Samaritan story and on the implications of the role of government in social and health care.

WE ALL ARE TO BE LIKE THE SAMARITAN.  It seems to me that Jesus' telling of the story of the good Samaritan was not to point out that as one of Jesus' followers I can choose to help or choose to ignore those who are suffering. It also seems to me that Jesus' point was not to prove, as some try to assert, that it is not the government's responsibility to help people in physical need. What was the point of Jesus telling this story? That we all are to be like the Samaritan (and, specifically, not like the others who did not respond for whatever reason), to see our neighbor's needs as our own and respond as graciously as God has seen us in our need and responded to us as the Samaritan. Who was the neighbor to the man who was bleeding?  The Samaritan.  Who are we to love as ourselves, even as we love God?  Our neighbor.  What is the unmistakable implication of followers of Jesus?  Reflect the character of the Samaritan and respond to your neighbors in need as best you can.

NOT JUST INDIVIDUAL RESPONDERS, BUT A COMMUNITY RESPONSE.  We usually read, interpret and apply the Samaritan story individualistically, don't we?  But that's not how it was told or intended to be applied. It occurs to me that this story was not told to individuals, but to the believers and would-be believers together.  So, what is called for is not merely an individualistic response, but a community-wide response. Yes, there is an individual response.  But there is no less a community-wide response that his pointed to and implied.  The church has received the stories and teachings of Jesus not only as a personal invitation and imperative, but as a faith-community invitation and imperative.  It is no stretch to grasp the call to a community-wide response of universal compassion in this particular story of Jesus.

HELP US HELP OUR NEIGHBORS.  As to the role of government: Americans decided more than a generation ago that our individualistic and charitable responses to our fellow American neighbors in desperate need, though gracious, were being overwhelmed. As a people, we decided and contributed together to hold our government accountable for helping us help our neighbors in crises in specific situations. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other life-critical initiatives have helped millions of our neighbors and family members in preventative, life-sustaining and restorative ways. Collectively, we have been able to express our compassion and care at levels and in ways we could not have individually or as communities of faith alone. In some ways, we have held our government accountable to act more compassionately, more Christianly, than it would have or as some would have it do again. 

BACKSLIDING FROM OR RE-EMBRACING AN ETHIC.  It seems to me that we have collectively asked that the Samaritan principle be enacted as an expression of who we are at our best as a nation. To not act in this spirit and on this principle in regard to the many millions who are medically uninsured--and more becoming uninsured every day--would be to backslide from a basic underpinning of the Christian and compassion ethic that has contributed to our nation's integrity to this point.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

CAN CHRISTIANS ADMIT OUR BIASES ON HEALTH REFORM AND MOVE TOWARD COMMON GROUND?

Can Christians and faith communities admit our ideological biases and move toward higher, common ground?

SOJO POST.  I was pleased to see that the Sojourners community posted my Five Christian Considerations for Health-Care Reform on their site today.  I posted this piece here on Bikehiker last week and Sojourners folks asked to post it.  I just wasn't sure when it might appear.

A FEW HAND-HOLDS.  My intention with the reflection was to offer Christian pastors and congregational leaders a few Biblical and Christian community hand-holds to help their communities find and move to some higher, common ground in the health care reform dialog.  I referenced only a few Scripture passages specifically in the piece, but I could (and perhaps should) populate it with a multitude of Bible references that give weight to the five points.  The point is not to muster "proof" passages but to lift up the overarching call for the church to be the church in a compassionate, Kingdom-anticipating witness before the world in this particular opportunity at this particular time.

BIAS ABOUNDS.  I am aware that one of the big issues in the health care dialog to this point is bias.  Not many are willing to admit bias--particularly Christians and particularly those who are so immersed in it that they can't recognize it.  But we ALL carry biases into this discussion. Some have a liberarian bias.  Some have a conservative.  Some have a liberal bias (that's me).  Some have a very dim view of a  government role in social and economic issues.  Some have a higher view of the role of government (again, that's me).  Some are in the middle somewhere.  Some have unspoken or carefully-concealed prejudices that color their views and are reflected in their actions or inactions.  And we all have some reason or justifications--some valid, some not--for our biases.

A LITTLE HONESTY, PLEASE.  Why is bias important to recognize and own up to?  It just seems to me that Christians could introduce a degree of honesty into the health care reform dialog if we would
(1) admit our political and ideological biases,
(2) distinguish these from our understanding of essential Christianity, and
(3) stop demonizing--by word and action--anyone--including fellow Christians--who hold contrary perspectives to ours.

BEYOND DEMONIZING EACH OTHER.  I've been personally demonized by some Christian folk who are convinced, based on the misinformation and/or the wrong implications of information they've been given, that my support for the current health care reform legislation is anti-Christian.  But I am convinced that the legislation, though it is not perfect (what legislation or law ever is?), is not sinister, not invasive, not forcing payment for abortions, not determining end-of-life measures, not "socialism," and not unfair for all.  On the other hand, from my perspective, I see the status quo--leaving the health-care, -insurance, and -consumer system as they are--as both morally reprehensible and economically unsustainable.  Instead of demonizing those who cleave to status quo, I am trying to better understand where they are coming from and trying to be understood fairly by them.

LET IT BEGIN WITH US.  Perhaps the confession of bias and a common seeking after the good of all our neighbors is a good beginning point--or re-beginning point--for moving forward in this national dialog.  It seems to me that such confession and common seeking could begin in the church and among religious communities and bodies which hold opposing biases, and that this would be a witness to the world in our time of what we point to when we say "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
 

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, August 24, 2009

DALLAS WILLARD ON WEALTH & POVERTY

Willard's reflection offers some perspective for today's dialog on health care reform


THE POOR VS POVERTY. Along with fresh material, I’ve been rereading some core works on the spiritual disciplines.  I had forgotten about Dallas Willard’s chapter titled “Is Poverty Spiritual?” in Spirit of the Disciplines.  Willard perceives a significant difference between “the poor” and life-crushing “poverty.” "The poor" will always be with us, he declares. On the other hand, "poverty" must be addressed aggressively and persistently. Interesting distinction.  Interesting perspective.

NOT OFF THE HOOK. Willard asserts that the Bible does not indicate that no one should be poor. I disagree. He overlooks clear and repeated directives and provisions in the Old and New Testaments. But even if one holds that “the poor will always be with you” is an emphatic declaration instead of a reference that cannot be taken out of the context in which Jesus was making another point of emphasis, no one--particularly sincere followers of Jesus--is off the hook regarding the poor and poverty.

GODLY USE OF WEALTH. I appreciate the manner in which Willard addresses the call of God’s people to alleviate and end poverty. He doesn’t go where you’d think one who believes the poor exist by God’s design goes. Willard avoids typical “charity” and band-aid approaches to relieving poverty and encourages followers of Jesus to work for relief, yes, but also for release and restructuring. He links poverty with injustice, the idolatry of money, and misplaced trust in riches. He asserts that a Godly person with wealth will use it to help the poor, address injustice, and change poverty-producing policies, patterns, and behaviors.

Here are a few statements by Willard that I find insightful:

PRESENT INEQUALITIES REFLECT INJUSTICE. “At the present time we find ourselves in world where few people are rich and powerful, while many are poor and weak. Some who are well-off have actively wronged their neighbors to get or keep their wealth; others wrong their neighbors by allowing them to suffer rather than share with them. There is an obvious inequality in the distribution of goods needed for life, and much of the inequality is a reflection of injustice.”

WHEN ‘ECONOMIC’ OPPORTUNITY KILLS. “The problems posed for human life by wealth and poverty are not just concerns for theology and social or personal ethics. They go to the very foundations of the social order. We talk in clinically detached terms of ‘the economy,’ but it is economic issues that open the door to the most repressive and bloody regimes, of the political Right as well as Left…At some point, ‘economic’ considerations are translated into the ruin or termination of human lives. Sometimes this is due to ‘the establishment”; other times ‘the requirements of the revolution’ are served.”

WORSHIPING GOD OR RICHES? “Whoever cannot have riches without worshiping them above God should get rid of them, if that will enable him or her to trust and serve God rightly.”

GIVE ALL AWAY OR STEWARD IT GRACIOUSLY? “To assume the responsibility for the rightful use and guidance of possessions through ownership is far more of a discipline of the spirit than poverty itself. Our possessions vastly extend the range over which God rules through our faith. Thus they make possible activities in God’s power that are impossible without them. We must not allow our quite justifiable revulsion at the debauchery of those who happen to be rich to blind us to this fact.”

BEYOND WELFARE PROGRAMS. “Charity and social welfare programs, while good and clearly our duty, cannot even begin to fulfill our responsibilities as children of light to a needy world. It is pure delusion to imagine they can. They simply concern too small a portion of the goods of life…”

EQUALITY OF POOR AND RICH. “Only if we believe with our whole being in the equality of rich and poor before God can we walk in their midst as Jesus did, unaffected in our personal relations by the distinction…The New Testament teaching is that we are to honor all people. Hence we are to honor the poor. We are to respect them and to show our respect in all the natural ways. We are to do no less and no more to the rich.”

AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS. “Our problem is not primarily with how we see the poor, but with how we see ourselves. If we still think and convey by our behavior that in some way we are fundamentally different and better as persons from the man sleeping in the discarded boxes in the alley, we have not been brought with clear eyes to the foot of the cross, seeing our own neediness in the light of it. We have not looked closely at the lengths to which God had to go to reach us. We have not learned to live always and thankfully in the cross’s shadow. From that vantage point alone is our solidarity with the destitute to be realized.”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

THE WHOLE WORLD IN MY HEART

“True evangelism, based on the example of Jesus, does not suggest the ‘missionary zeal’ of self-righteous proselytizers. It implies, on the contrary, the kind of all-embracing universality evident in Mother Teresa's prayer: ‘May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.’ Not just fellow nuns, Catholics, Calcuttans, Indians. The whole world. It gives me pause to realize that, were such a prayer said by me and answered by God, I would afterward possess a heart so open that even hate-driven zealots would fall inside.” – David James Duncan

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A CAPACITY FOR FAITHFULNESS

Though they stumble and sometimes wander, authentic disciples keep coming back

“What makes authentic disciples is not visions, ecstasies, biblical mastery of chapter and verse, or spectacular successes in ministry, but a capacity for faithfulness. Buffeted by the fickle winds of failure, battered by their own unruly emotions, and bruised by rejection and ridicule, authentic disciples may have stumbled and frequently fallen, endured lapses and relapses, gotten handcuffed to the fleshpots and wandered into a far country. Yet, they kept coming back to follow Jesus...Where sin abounded, grace much more abounded.”

— Brennan Manning in The Ragamuffin Gospel

Friday, August 21, 2009

LINKS TO SOME ORGANIZATIONS ADVOCATING FOR HEALH CARE REFORM

A few helpful links if you're looking for resources that speak the truth about health care reform


Here are some links with resources I find helpful in seeking the truth and speaking the truth as I encourage people to find the common ground needed to make health care quality, accessible, and affordable for ALL American citizens:

RESPOND TO FALSE E-MAIL ABOUT HEALTH CARE REFORM BILL

I've received e-mails full of false information about Congress' bill on health care reform. Let's try to set the record straight...for anyone who cares about seeking and speaking the truth.

The contents of an e-mail that has circulated and raised alarm about the contents of Congress' health care reform bills are misleading and, on most points, patently false.  If the anonymous writer(s) of that viral e-mail had read the legislation in context of its clear intent, he or she or they would know better.  If they knew better and intentionally distorted the truth and then spread it, well, that's wrong.
Here are the facts. Anyone can verify them by reading the bill at http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h3200/text

"Actual itemized contents of the Health Care Reform Bill:"

"Page 22: Mandates audits of all employers that self-insure!"

TRUTH: This is not an "audit," it's a study. Moreover, the bill states (pp. 22-23) that the report will "include any recommendations the Commissioner deems appropriate to ensure that the law does not provide incentives for small and mid-size employers to self-insure or create adverse selection in the risk pools of large group insurers and self-insured employers." This is almost directly the opposite of the email's claim.

"Page 29: Admission: your health care will be rationed!"

TRUTH: Page 29 continues to define the "essential benefits package" and discusses limits on what Americans will have to spend on health care under this minimum standard. In no way does this section stipulate the rationing of care.

"Page 30: A government committee will decide what treatments and benefits you get (and, unlike an insurer, there will be no appeals process)"

TRUTH: Page 30 begins to describe the Health Benefits Advisory Committee which establishes certain minimum standards for health insurance plans. In no way does this committee deny treatments and benefits to Americans with health insurance.

"Page 42: The 'Health Choices Commissioner' will decide health benefits for you. You will have no choice. None."

TRUTH: Page 42 begins to describe the Health Choices Commissioner's duties. The idea that this person will decide what benefits Americans receive is patently false, given that most Americans will keep their current plans under reform, and Americans within the exchange will have the choice of purchasing many different kinds of health plans. Rather, the Commissioner will establish minimum standards to protect Americans.

"Page 50: All non-US citizens, illegal or not, will be provided with free healthcare services."

TRUTH: Pages 50-51 contain a provision stating that discrimination will not be allowed in the provision of health care services. Nowhere does the bill state that non-US citizens will be provided free health care services. The bill prohibits federal dollars from being used for undocumented immigrants.

"Page 58: Every person will be issued a National ID Healthcard."

TRUTH: Page 58, in the context of a discussion of administrative standards, mentions that "determination of an individual's financial responsibility at the point of service and, to the extent possible, prior to service, including whether the individual is eligible for a specific service with a specific physician at a specific facility...may include utilization of a machine-readable health plan beneficiary identification card." In no way does the bill state that such a card would be national, or that it would be issued to every person, or that it would, in fact, be used at all.

"Page 59: The federal government will have direct, real-time access to all individual bank accounts for electronic funds transfer."

TRUTH: Page 59 continues the discussion of administrative standards, and authorizes electronic transfers of money within the government. In no way does this provision grant the government access to individual bank accounts.

"Page 65: Taxpayers will subsidize all union retiree and community organizer health plans (read: SEIU, UAW and ACORN)"

TRUTH: Here's what page 65 says: "Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall establish a temporary reinsurance program to provide reimbursement to assist participating employment-based plans with the cost of providing health benefits to retirees and to eligible spouses, surviving spouses and dependents of such retirees." No mention is made of unions or community organizations.

"Page 72: All private healthcare plans must conform to government rules to participate in a Healthcare Exchange."

TRUTH: That's true! Plans have to have a minimum standard of benefits, but can offer other plans as well. But that's fair, isn't it? Private insurers can continue to operate outside the exchange if they wish - should the government establish no standards for the exchange? In that case, how could reform end insurance industry abuses and help to control costs?

"Page 84: All private healthcare plans must participate in the Healthcare Exchange (i.e., total government control of private plans)"

TRUTH: This section says is that if private health care plans want to operate in the Exchange, they must provide a basic benefit package.

"Page 91: Government mandates linguistic infrastructure for services; translation: illegal aliens"

TRUTH: Some American citizens are more comfortable speaking a language other than English, especially in a sensitive situation like a consultation with their doctor. This provision in no way opens the door for coverage of undocumented workers.

"Page 95: The Government will pay ACORN and Americorps to sign up individuals for Government-run Health Care plan."

TRUTH: Page 95 makes no mention of ACORN and Americorps; all it says is that the Commissioner can conduct outreach to vulnerable populations, making them aware of their options.

"Page 102: Those eligible for Medicaid will be automatically enrolled: you have no choice in the matter."

TRUTH: People who are eligible for Medicaid will not have to face the burdens of paperwork and other bureaucratic struggles. Far from depriving people of choice, this measure will ensure coverage.

"Page 124: No company can sue the government for price-fixing. No 'judicial review' is permitted against the government monopoly. Put simply, private insurers will be crushed."

TRUTH: This section describes rate-setting under the public health insurance plan option, which will compete with private insurers, who can set their own rates. Because of inherent advantages like their established administrative and provider frameworks, private insurance companies will not be "crushed" by government competition.

"Page 127: The AMA sold doctors out: the government will set wages."

TRUTH: The government will negotiate rates with providers under the public health insurance plan option. However, private insurers will continue to pay their own rates.

"Page 145: An employer MUST auto-enroll employees into the government-run public plan. No alternatives."

TRUTH: This is simply not true. Employers with more than 20 employees aren't even eligible to participate in the exchange, let alone the public plan, until several years after the exchange launches in 2013. Moreover, no employer will be forced to participate in the public plan.

"Page 146: Employers MUST pay healthcare bills for part-time employees AND their families."

TRUTH: Employers are required to pay some benefits for part-time employees on a basis proportional to what they pay for full-time employees. No language on this page or the next stipulates coverage for the families of part-time employees.

"Page 149: Any employer with a payroll of $400K or more, who does not offer the public option, pays an 8% tax on payroll"

TRUTH: The payroll penalty applies to employers with payroll over $500,000 who do not provide insurance to their employees. The percentage for employers with payroll from $500,000 - $750,000 is 6%. Employers do not have to offer the public option to avoid this penalty, they can offer private insurance if they wish.

"Page 150: Any employer with a payroll of $250K-400K or more, who does not offer the public option, pays a 2 to 6% tax on payroll"

TRUTH: This is false, see above.

"Page 167: Any individual who doesn't' have acceptable healthcare (according to the government) will be taxed 2.5% of income."

TRUTH: Pages 167-173 detail what "acceptable health care" means (basically, insurance coverage) and also allow for many different kinds of exceptions to this rule.

"Page 170: Any NON-RESIDENT alien is exempt from individual taxes (Americans will pay for them)."

TRUTH: Non-resident aliens do not have to pay the penalty for not having health insurance, nor will the receive federal assistance, because they are not required to purchase health insurance. They are not exempted from individual taxes generally.

"Page 195: Officers and employees of Government Healthcare Bureaucracy will have access to ALL American financial and personal records."

TRUTH: This is a gross overstatement. For the purposes of determining affordability credits for Americans who need financial assistance in purchasing health insurance, employees of the Health Choices Administration will have access to tax information that the federal government already keeps. As is clearly stated on page 196, "Return information... may be used by officers and employees of the Health Choices Administration or such State-based health insurance exchange, as the case may be, only for the purposes of, and to the extent necessary in, establishing and verifying the appropriate amount of any affordability credit described in subtitle C of title II of the America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 and providing for the repayment of any such credit which was in excess of such appropriate amount.''

"Page 203: "The tax imposed under this section shall not be treated as tax." Yes, it really says that."

TRUTH: This quote is taken out of context, and is in fact referring to a calculation used in the bill. Full context of quote: "'(4) NOT TREATED AS TAX IMPOSED BY THIS CHAPTER FOR CERTAIN PURPOSES.-The tax imposed under this section shall not be treated as tax imposed by this chapter for purposes of determining the amount of any credit under this chapter or for purposes of section 55.''

"Page 239: Bill will reduce physician services for Medicaid. Seniors and the poor most affected."

TRUTH: This section has nothing whatsoever to do with reducing services. It makes much needed changes to the way in which physician reimbursement is recalculated every year. The bill will, in fact, create much more opportunity for seniors and the poor to receive necessary care.

"Page 241: Doctors: no matter what specialty you have, you'll all be paid the same (thanks, AMA!)"

TRUTH: Page 241 does not say this. Nowhere does it say this. It does say that physicians will be grouped into certain categories regardless of specialty. These categories merely determine if the physician is engaged in primarily therapeutic or preventative care.

"Page 253: Government sets value of doctors' time, their professional judgment, etc."

TRUTH: There is no good response to this assertion as it appears to have been made up completely. The section deals with 'misvalued codes' meaning that the government is potentially not paying an acceptable rate for a specific service. This will allow the government to, for example, pay more for services that require more payment, such as high-overhead procedures. The author of these criticisms separately attacks the bill for paying the same rate to all doctors, then attacks again for paying different rates.

"Page 265: Government mandates and controls productivity for private healthcare industries."

TRUTH: This section amends the Social Security Act to include productivity measures. There is no mandate or control of anything. This merely updates the way in which doctors and hospitals are paid through Medicare.

"Page 268: Government regulates rental and purchase of power-driven wheelchairs."

TRUTH: This is simply not true. This slightly amends existing guidelines for payments for medical equipment, in this case power-driven wheelchairs. This section introduces no 'regulations' that are not in the Social Security Act.

"Page 272: Cancer patients: welcome to the wonderful world of rationing!"

TRUTH: Overusage of the hot-button word "rationing" is a way to deflect attention away from the actual language of the bill and incite unjustified fear. This section only compares costs incurred by cancer hospitals to costs incurred by similar hospitals, and adjusts payments to reduce the possibility of fraud and abuse.

"Page 280: Hospitals will be penalized for what the government deems preventable re-admissions."

TRUTH: This is almost correct. The section is one of the first efforts at targeting excessive readmissions. Excessive readmissions are physically and emotionally damaging to patients, while simultaneously putting them, and the health care system, in far more financial risk than is necessary. The American Hospital Association recommended reduced payments for avoidable readmission in testimony to Congress.

"Page 298: Doctors: if you treat a patient during an initial admission that results in a readmission, you will be penalized by the government."

TRUTH: This is patently false. The section is about possible methods that the Secretary of Health and Human services might consider in order to address the growing problem of patient readmission. This section does not, in any way, create a penalty, nor does it even mandate policy. It merely provides examples of recourses that might be considered.

"Page 317: Doctors: you are now prohibited from owning and investing in healthcare companies!"

TRUTH: This provision only limits Doctor's investments in health care facilities that they refer patients to. The effort to limit self-referral has been ongoing for many years as an effort to reduce fraud and abuse. This is, essentially, the medical community equivalent of insider trading. Limiting this incentive works to put the patient's health above all other considerations. Doctors remain free to engage in investment opportunities in areas that don't create a significant conflict of interest.

"Page 318: Prohibition on hospital expansion. Hospitals cannot expand without government approval."

TRUTH: This section regulates physicians' investment in hospitals to make sure that physicians are not unfairly benefiting from their power to refer patients to hospitals they have a stake in. The section does not prohibit hospital expansion.

"Page 321: Hospital expansion hinges on 'community' input: in other words, yet another payoff for ACORN."

TRUTH: In the ongoing effort to demonize community-based groups such as ACORN, every instance of the word "community" has become associated with that group's efforts. In reality, this provision allows for anyone to provide input. This includes homeowners, religious leaders, neighborhood groups, and others. There are no payoffs. There is no money exchanged in any way.
"Page 335: Government mandates establishment of outcome-based measures: i.e., rationing."

TRUTH: This provision is included in order to allow the government to base payments on practices that work. Nowhere does it say health care will be rationed. The attempt to isolate what works and what does not work in Medicare Advantage plans only benefits the health care system in general.

"Page 341: Government has authority to disqualify Medicare Advantage Plans, HMOs, etc."

TRUTH: The government can disqualify some Medicare Advantage Plans from receiving some additional payments, but only if those plans are not meeting necessary requirements.

"Page 354: Government will restrict enrollment of SPECIAL NEEDS individuals."

TRUTH: This section only deals with how to handle special needs individuals who need to enroll outside of the open enrollment period. Almost every type of plan operates with open enrollment periods. This section does not create more restrictions.

"Page 379: More bureaucracy: Telehealth Advisory Committee (healthcare by phone)."

TRUTH: This section merely expands existing Telehealth programs, which supplement but do not replace other health coverage, and provide a vital resource to Americans in rural and remote areas.

"Page 425-430: More bureaucracy: Advance Care Planning Consult: Senior Citizens, assisted suicide, euthanasia?; Government will instruct and consult regarding living wills, durable powers of attorney, etc. Mandatory. Appears to lock in estate taxes ahead of time; Government provides approved list of end-of-life resources, guiding you in death; Government mandates program that orders end-of-life treatment; government dictates how your life ends; Advance Care Planning Consult will be used to dictate treatment as patient's health deteriorates. This can include an ORDER for end-of-life plans. An ORDER from the GOVERNMENT; Government will decide what level of treatments you may have at end-of-life."

TRUTH: All of these hysterical claims have been debunked elsewhere. HR3200 provides for the reimbursement of a voluntary session of end-of-life counseling with your physician once every five years. This in no way means the government will make decisions for patients or encourage doctor-assisted suicide. Counseling simply makes patients and their families aware of their options.
"
Page 469: Community-based Home Medical Services: more payoffs for ACORN."

TRUTH: ACORN is not a Community-Based Medical Home.

"Page 472: Payments to Community-based organizations: more payoffs for ACORN."

TRUTH: This is clearly still referring to community health groups, not ACORN.

"Page 489: Government will cover marriage and family therapy. Government intervenes in your marriage."

TRUTH: Covering marriage and family therapy, as many private insurance plans do, does not mean that the government "intervenes in your marriage." The types of individuals who are recognized as therapists are clearly defined on page 491; in brief, professionals only, not bureaucrats.

"Page 494: Government will cover mental health services: defining, creating and rationing those services."

TRUTH: This section expands government coverage for mental health services under various government programs, and ensures that all mental health services will be offered by qualified professionals.


This information is provided by my friends in the Health Care For America Now (HCAN), an open group of citizens advocating for fair and equal access to quality health care for all American citizens.

Here are credible links with resources I find useful for seeking and speaking the truth about health care reform:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

NO, I CAN'T DO THIS ON A BICYCLE. KUDOS!

Artistic cycling is big in Europe and Asia...and this is awesome

I like to ride bikes.  Road bikes.  Mountain bikes.  I like to ride fast, climb hills, group ride, solo ride.  But it never occurred to me that somewhere, and apparently for many years, artistic cycling has been...an art.  Watch this and be amazed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

5 CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE CHURCH ON HEALTH CARE REFORM

I’ve been reading, observing, and reflecting about health care reform. A few considerations for my fellow believers


A HIGH COST FOR UNINSURED. I approach the discussion about health care reform from the perspective an urban minister. I’ve worked with urban core neighbors, neighborhoods, congregations and community groups for over 20 years. I’ve watched people struggle to access basic health services in the shadow of world-class hospitals. I know hard-working people caught in the “catch-22” level of income: they make too much to access Medicaid but too little to afford health insurance premiums. They work for companies that either don’t offer health insurance or offer it partially at a level these employees can’t afford. Workers are forced to use a patchwork of health fairs, free clinics, and doctors who will see them occasionally without cost (God bless these). They put off illness or pain until it becomes chronic or unbearable and then make a dash to an emergency room. The health costs they incur are a greater portion of their household income than most Americans. The cost to their dignity is inestimable. But the cost to America’s integrity is even higher.

A BROKEN SYSTEM. At the same time, I know that health care costs are spiraling upward for higher-wage neighbors. The monthly cost for many a family’s health insurance is higher than their mortgage payment. Benefits are stripped down and co-pays and deductibles are higher than ever. I know people whose prescriptions are no longer covered, whose important procedures are denied, and whose insurance has been dropped. Many people have filed bankruptcy due in large part to unpayable medical bills. In short, while the health care system has not been working for the working poor for a long time, it is not working for more and more middle-income neighbors. None of this begins to factor in the significant levels of abuse of the system by those who game it—some professional healthcare providers, some in the insurance industry and some consumers of health care services. The current system is not sustainable, it is not reasonable, it is not just. It does not reflect what we know is best about or for America.

FIVE CONSIDERATIONS. So, I am completely on board with the call for quality, accessible, affordable health care for all citizens. I’m advocating for this from the perspective of an urban Christian minister, on the one hand, and as an American citizen, on the other. As a Christian minister, I am convinced that quality, accessible, affordable health care for all is a moral imperative. As an American citizen, I am personally convinced it is a right that’s implied in the very intent of our historic social contract. But it is as a Christian minister that I offer the following considerations on health care reform to the church I love:

1. The Samaritan principle sets the tone for the Christian church regarding care for the poor, uninsured, and desperate in our land. Simply put, in the care a Samaritan extends to a wounded, helpless victim, Jesus declares what it means to be an authentic neighbor. If we have the resources to help and heal, we should. Not because we’ll get reimbursed. Not because there’s profit involved. Not because we’ll get recognized or rewarded. But because it reflects the caring, healing intention of God for God’s people in relationship to one another and in witness to the world. We cannot pass by because we presume somebody else will take care of uninsured people. We cannot ignore what’s happening because it’s just bigger than us or beyond us. Jesus calls us to see, respond, help, comfort, and restore—as if those left out and wounded were our very own.

2. Jesus’ ministry of healing was conducted in the face of structures and regulations designed to control, limit, and exclude. I’ve been reading the Gospels again during this time of national concern about health care. Health and healing was front and center for Jesus. Undoubtedly, Jesus’ healings were a sign that he was the anticipated Messiah and that a new era was beginning. However, Jesus’ healings also confronted, exposed and undermined age-old systems that, in the name of health care, prevented healing from occurring. Jesus cut through the red tape, system-serving regulations and control-oriented rituals to actually offer what God desired for people—healing, restoration, and a future of dignity and hope. Instead of defending the current status quo practices which place ordinary folks in similar binds, the people who follow and claim to reflect Jesus should consider how he judged and exposed the ineffectiveness and meanness of structures that served themselves at others’ expense.

3. The context of community, inclusion, and sharing resources to assist the neediest--central in the early church witness--is a pattern and principle to renew. Beginning with Acts 2, we see the earliest believers holding things in common, pooling resources, and selling off assets in order to meet the needs of the weakest among them. It was not about me and mine, but we and ours. In the perspective of that early faith community, my personal self-interest includes your well-being. They realized that we are deeply interconnected with one another. The Apostle Paul affirmed this principle with his counsel that we are members of one another, that no part can say to another, “I don’t need you.” To what extent are there such awarenesses or practices in the church today? And to what extent is our sense of community—over against asserting individual privilege and private right—bearing witness to the larger community and nation of what is good, possible, and Godly?

4. Christian leaders should be leading the health care dialog by seeking the truth and speaking the truth. To this point, it doesn’t seem to me that there has been a debate or dialog about health care reform. Much of the so-called debate to this point has focused on myths, distortions and outright lies about proposed health reform legislation. The news media focus has been on misinformed people shouting down Congressional leaders, calling them Nazis, and burning them in effigy. I’m convinced Christians should not only not be a part of those scenarios, but that we should make a contribution to the dialogue that is fact-based, truth-seeking, civil, and that moves all to find the common ground necessary to ensure that quality, accessible, affordable health care is available to all American citizens. If the news media or partisan groups play to distortions and extremes, then people of Christian faith have a significant role to get the facts, convey them in understandable ways, and create conversations that deal in what’s real. We are the people whose Scriptures declare, “you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.” We are the people who are reminded that “God has given us, not a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of self-discipline.”

5. Let us embody and advocate for the principles, practices, and norms of the beloved community toward which Jesus pointed. Christians have no stake in propping up old-order systems, or aligning ourselves with self-serving institutions, or playing to sub-christian social stratifications. At personal, community, and systemic levels, Christians are challenged to practice now the norms and promises of the future described in the Scriptures. I love the way Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it: “God’s future is enacted as present neighborliness.” Is not quality, accessible, affordable health care for all one such act of “present neighborliness” that is a signal of the direction God intends the future to move? I think so. And I invite Christians and people of other faiths to join me and others in this kairos moment—this period of unique opportunity to witness something magnanimous and restorative in our generation.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

UNSETTLE ME, SETTLE ME

Sometimes I need to be unsettled, sometimes I need to be settled

Unsettle me.
Unsettle my settledness
Which breeds complacency.
Unsettle my settledness
Which is the playground of vanity
And spiritual pride.
Agitate my soul
To hear and see again
The pain and promise
Which brought You near.

Settle me.
Settle my unsettledness
Which breeds anxiety.
Settle my unsettledness
Which is the playground of discontent
And spiritual shallowness.
Anchor my soul
To Word and Sacrament
The substance and promise
Which You bring near.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

ROUTINE AND REPENTANCE

How often should we repent? As often as it takes to come 'round right


Repentance should be routine,
though never a routine
or repetitious.

I realize I have been wrong
at least several times a day.
It's pretty humbling, but
embarrassment can
break deadly denial.

If I am to be a whole person
then repentance will be
an honest response
to error and pride when
it is duly revealed.

When I repent I am free
of the guilt that badgered me,
the pride that gripped me,
the fear that stifled me,
the error that nagged me,
the conflict that crossed me.

I have been wrong
while being quite correct.
Bearing matters,
approach matters,
attitude matters.

Repentance is turning around.
If it takes going back,
then I must go back.
If it takes changing course,
then I must go another way.

Repentance is critical for
reconciliation and relationship,
even if I am the only one
in a circle of companions
who sees it and does it.

After repentance
I see more clearly
what God thought
possible in and among us
in the first place.

"To turn, turn,
will be our delight,
'til by turning, turning,
we come 'round right."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

JOIN A HEALTH REFORM DIALOG WORTHY OF OUR FAITH

This is an opportunity for people of faith to work with the truth and shape the discussion

Because I'm convinced quality, accessible, affordable health care for all American citizens is needed, possible, and morally right--and something Christians and the church should be advocating for--I'm working with a coalition of 25 faith-based organizations and denominations that is encouraging people of faith to do what they can to make health care reform a reality. Will you join with me?

You can start by joining in a nationwide call-in with faith leaders and President Barack Obama on Wednesday, August 19.

The initiative, called 40 Days for Health Reform also invites you to learn the facts about the legislation that is being worked with and proposed, read and consider signing a pledge/petition to ask Congress to make sure everyone is included in health reform, have fruitful, civil conversations within faith circles, and be part of vigils for health reform around the country.

Much of the debate to this point has centered around myths, distortions and outright lies about proposed health reform legislation. The media focus has been on misinformed people shouting down Congressional leaders, calling them Nazis, and burning them in effigy. I believe Christians should not only not be a part of those scenarios, but that we should make a contribution to the dialogue that is fact-based, truth-seeking, civil, and that moves all to find common ground to ensure that quality, accessible, affordable health care is available to ALL American citizens. That's why I encourage you to be part of this initiative.

Here's a link to the new story about this that ran on Indianapolis CBS affiliate WISH-TV 8 on Friday evening.

Here's a link to the national ad I participated in for this initiative.

Here's a reality check link to get the facts about the health care reform legislation.

And here's the online text of Dave Barros' news story on WISH-TV 8 on Friday, August 14:

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - An Indianapolis pastor is working with more than two dozen faith groups, putting them in the middle of the health care debate. He and the others say reform is needed and they want more people to get involved.

Forty Days For Health Reform is a national campaign designed to show that health care is a moral issue not a political one.
John Hay Jr., a longtime Indianapolis pastor and advocate for the poor, is promoting the campaign. which includes a call-in with President Obama August 19.
"People can call in and ask their questions and share their ideas about health care reform with our president," said Hay.
Curt Smith is the president of the Indiana Family Institute, an Indianapolis faith-based group that promotes policy. He believes faith-based groups are an important part of the health care debate.
"But they kind of begin with an assumption that I'd like to challenge and that is, while health care is an important part of our moral commitment in this country, government should carry out that moral commitment," said Smith.
Hay Jr. said his program is not looking for government to take over anything.
Glenn Tebbe is the executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference . The church, he says, believes health care is a fundamental right.
"Government is involved in our health care already in so many ways because the problem is so large and so immense," said Tebbe. "We see this as an opportunity to try and make some positive changes to a system that needs correction."
One area where there is agreement is on abortion. All three men said it should not be a part of health care reform, saying it should be left at status quo for now.
For more information on the national call-in with President Obama next Wednesday, visit faithforhealth.org .

Here are some links with resources I find helpful in seeking the truth and speaking the truth as I encourage people to find the common ground needed to make health care quality, accessible, and affordable for ALL American citizens: