Tuesday, October 01, 2013

What Are We Afraid Of?


One of the things I love about travel is meeting people from all over the world and having time to learn about their lives and culture.  On our last trip to Europe one of our tour guides was from Sweden.  I couldn’t begin to tell you her last name because it had some characters in the name that I doubt are really letters…….with funny squiggles and dots on the top.  Plus I don’t actually remember it.  But her first name was Ulva if that gives you any idea of how thoroughly Swedish she is.

She spoke flawless English and was a delight to be around.  She was accomplished in getting 24 people from point A to point B with relaxed confidence.  We were in Italy which you might not think a Swede would be well-versed about but she was.  She could point to some arcane statue and tell you more than you really wanted to know about it.  And on the bus rides she was just a fount of information on Sweden. And it was obvious she loves Sweden.  By the end of the tour I was ready to move there.

One of the most startling things she told us was that Swedes LOVE to pay taxes.  She acknowledged that the tax rate is high.  But she also said taxes are taken out of your paycheck so you don’t really notice how high they are. And since everyone is taxed the same way there is camaraderie of all being in the same boat together.   She said Swedes love to pay taxes because they know they will get something in return.  They know that taxes eventually come back to the taxpayers in the form of services the government provides. 

Education in Sweden is totally free—including college.  I’ve started noticing magazine articles with graphs of who educates their kids the best and Sweden is always there on the top of the lists. So, apparently they spend a lot of taxes on education.  AND they don’t have to have a bake sale to fund the Chess Club.

She was plainly perplexed by America’s approach to health care.  Why do we happily pay taxes to fund police and firefighters who save lives yet balk at using the same system for our health care?  We pay our police to keep robbers and murderers out of our homes.  We pay firefighters to keep the fire next door from spreading to our house.  But if the next door neighbor got small pox it would be every man for himself.

Many times since spending a week with Ulva I have wondered these things.  It makes perfect sense coming from another person telling you stories of her life.  Allow me to share, too.

My daddy was a doctor.  He often told me the story of how he decided to become a doctor when he was five years old.  He remembered exactly where he was when the thought came to him and he never wavered in his choice.  That’s all he ever wanted to do.  And he loved it.  He loved the challenge of figuring out what was wrong with someone.  And he loved being able to make them feel better.

People always think doctors have a lot of money but we never did.  Daddy had one of the old-fashioned offices with only one employee:  his nurse.  He was horrible at collecting money from his patients.  He was a doctor, not a business manager.  How could he hound people for money when he knew better than anyone that Mr. Pollard was too sick to work?  And when Mr. Pollard didn’t work he didn’t get paid and neither did Daddy. He tried using a collection agency but with very little luck.  Iit always boiled down to “if you are sick then you can’t work and you don’t have any money to pay the doctor.”

Still, from the very beginning, when Medicare was merely a suggestion in the public’s mind, Daddy was 100% against it.  “Socialism!” he spat out the word as though the mere word dirtied his mouth. But, at home, in the checkbook, it saved our butts. 

With the stroke of Lyndon Johnson’s pen, the older patients could afford to visit their doctor and not worry about how the bill would get paid.  Coincidently, as his patients aged, Daddy switched from a specialty in Internal Medicine to Geriatrics.  For the rest of his practice he was able to do what he had always wanted to do:  simply practice medicine.  He didn’t have to worry about not getting paid. And his patients came to him sooner, before a medical problem worsened.  They didn’t have to wait to see the doctor until they could scrounge up enough money.

Medicare ended up being Daddy’s best friend.

And, here we are again: faced with a new idea that we’re not sure about.  The “S” word has been bandied about like a tattered and worn-out volleyball.  But I remember the conversations with Ulva and how puzzled she was over America’s fear of You Know What.  And I feel a bit like Roosevelt thinking that the only thing we have to fear is letting our fears of something new get the best of us.

Why shouldn’t medical care be considered as necessary as fighting crime and fires?  It’s not that we have no compassion.  If someone is seriously ill they can still go to the emergency room and somebody pays for that.  My guess is that the money comes from my taxes somewhere.  Why not take care of people up front so they don’t get so sick that their medical care is even more expensive? 

I highly suspect that when the dust settles and we figure out the paperwork and start watching some doctor bills getting paid, we will be like my daddy and his patients. We might wonder what the big fuss was about. 

Of course, those who met Jesus didn’t need health care; Jesus simply healed them.  Jesus offered a healthcare plan like no other.  For the rest of us, for believers today, those of us who are called to minister in Christ’s name to everyone we encounter, the issue is a bit stickier.  Or is it?  The early apostles, the people closer to Jesus, had fewer doubts.  Fewer complications.  For them, it was plain and simple.  They understood community.

Check out Acts 4:32. 

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