Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Health Coverage for All Citizens: A Moral Imperative

One reason today’s posting is later than usual (in addition to my need to vote today and then get a brother-in-law to the airport) is that I have been trying to track down some information to verify it before I post.

I haven’t been able to do all the research I’d like to do before posting. But, since the day is going on and I want to post something, I’m posting the following reflections with the proviso that there may be unfinished research to do on this subject. (And I always welcome any input readers want to provide, to give a more complete picture of any topic I discuss.)

Yesterday as I read the news, I noticed an interesting announcement on the 365Gay news site. This article states that a national survey released Monday indicates that nearly one in four gay and lesbian adults lack health insurance, and are nearly twice as likely to be without health insurance coverage than their straight counterparts (http://365gay.com/Newscon08/05/051908health.htm). The data for these conclusions were apparently gathered in an online survey conducted by Harris Interactive, in conjunction with Witeck-Combs Communications.

When I first read this article, my ears perked up for a number of reasons. (A discussion of the article is also on today’s Pam’s House Blend blog at (www.pamshouseblend.com/showDiary.do;jsessionid=3304E73FFF3A5622924B890EFD41D9F8?diaryId=5448).

First, I myself am without any health insurance. Finding a job after Steve’s and my gruesome experiences of injustice at a United Methodist University--

hasn’t been easy.

After my termination there and Steve’s resignation, we had the option to go with COBRA benefits. But they were prohibitively expensive. Since the betrayal of promises made to us

health insurance was a luxury we frankly couldn’t afford.

Because Steve worries about my health (as I do about his), he insisted that we buy some calamity-type coverage for me. We did so. The price was outrageous. After getting this insurance, we found it didn’t even cover any medical expenses or prescriptions, so that we were paying a huge amount for nothing.

Steve has now gotten a job, and we’re deeply grateful for this. I keep looking. He has good health coverage at his new workplace. Unfortunately, the workplace doesn’t provide partner benefits.

So I remain uncovered, and we are still trying to calculate the amount we can live on with one salary, while paying both the mortgage on our permanent house as well as on the temporary house we bought in Florida because of promises made to us

The downturn in the housing market has, of course, locked us into a mortgage for a house we cannot now sell, and are renting at a loss each month.

What we don’t yet know is how much wiggle room the take-home pay for the new job will give us, with two mortgages, to buy health insurance for me. As a result, I keep deferring any doctor’s or dentist’s visits, though I do have to watch some typical health challenges of members of my family as we age, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as diabetes that now seems to have moved beyond the incipient stage.

I apologize for all the personal details. In recounting them, I am crucially aware that others have much harder struggles to attain even minimal health coverage. And those others are far from being exclusively gay or lesbian. There are racial and socio-economic (and gender) indicators that assure some people in our society never have access even to minimally good health care.

What makes my situation anomalous, in a sense, is that I am a white male with graduate degrees and a professional background, and am stuck, near retirement, without health coverage. Hence my interest in any research that shows a trend for gay and lesbian adults to be less provided for in the area of health coverage than our straight counterparts . . . .

Another reason I am particularly interested in this study at this time is that an e-friend, Shannon, posted a response yesterday to my 13 May blog posting entitled “Healthcare Equality Index for LGBT Americans” at http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2008/05/healthcare-equality-index-for-lgbt.html. I encourage readers of this blog to pay attention to Shannon’s testimony about the very serious struggles trans people encounter, in seeking health care in our society.

There definitely does seem to be a challenge for LGBT people in general in this area. And it’s not merely the challenge I described in the 13 May posting of dealing with a health-delivery system in which people continue to feel free to vent anger or hostility towards LGBT persons.

It’s also the challenge of attaining health coverage at all. Obviously, this challenge would be diminished if partner benefits were widely available. Unfortunately, they just aren’t, particularly for those of us living outside major coastal urban areas with large LGBT populations.

Just as being without work does, being without health coverage impact’s a human being’s self-esteem. You feel that your life doesn’t have a great deal of worth, when you realize that you can’t obtain treatment for illness easily. The sense of worthlessness can then spiral into a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which you don’t take care of your health as you should.

Again, I don’t want this posting to sound plaintive. I have privileges that go way beyond those many people, both straight and LGBT, have in our society, and I have less reason to complain than many people.

Still, there is something to be considered here, by anyone who is concerned about better health coverage for all citizens. I’m describing psychosocial dynamics that, in my view, are part and parcel of the experience of marginalization for many people in our society. And I would call on the churches of Main Street USA and the good people of Main Street USA to think about those dynamics, and how they affect the lives of the marginal.

I became aware of these dynamics in a more acute way in my years doing graduate study in Toronto. There, even as an American citizen without a visa or work permit (but with permission to study in the country), I was covered by the Ontario health system.

This meant that, as a student with very little money, I could go to the doctor and be treated for illness, and never pay a penny. I could fill a prescription, and not pay for the medicine. If I needed, I could go to a hospital and be treated, without having to pay.

People feel more human when they know that they have access to basic health coverage, regardless of their income. Systems that premise access to basic health coverage on one’s economic worth are barbarous. Churches that talk about justice and human rights without pushing hard for basic health coverage for all citizens undermine their credibility—and even more so, when their own institutions create quandaries such as the one I now find myself in, due to their discrimination against LGBT human beings.

I began this posting by noting that there was a bit of research I hoped to complete before posting, but that I hadn’t been able to do it. This research is a follow-up to another blog discussion of the 365Gay news article. On yesterday’s Bilerico Blog, Alex Blaze discussed the Harris Interactive Survey (see www.bilerico.com/2008/05/health_care_poll.php).

Blaze raises some critical questions about the accuracy of Harris Interactive polling, and I don’t want to overlook those questions. Even with those critical provisos, Blaze notes, however, that since access to health insurance is normally through jobs and marriage, it is entirely possible that further research would corroborate the conclusion of this poll that LGBT people get the short end of the stick when it comes to health coverage.

Questions for those of us who are Americans to ponder as our nation continues its current federal election cycle . . . .

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