A Pagan Response to the Affordable Care Act

Jason Pitzi-Waters, of the Pagan Newswire Collective, asked a few of us to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.  Here’s mine:

A Pagan response—or rather, this Pagan’s response for there no universal agreement among Pagans on any issue–to the upholding of the Affordable Care Act has two aspects:  is it good for us, individually and as a community, and is it in concert with our Pagan values.

While the Act is not as good for me, individually or many of us as a single-payer system would be, it is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got.  Like many other Pagan writers and teachers, I’m self-employed and have been pretty much all my adult life.  I’ve had health insurance since my mother brow-beat me into getting it in my twenties, with the same company.  While I’m pretty healthy for my age, I’ve seen my premiums go up and up every year, to the point that they were costing me more than my mortgage, more than my food budget, more than anything else.  Now, if I were being taxed for a single-payer system, when my income went down my payments would go down.  But with private insurance, the price just keeps going up and up and up!  When it finally reached over $1200 a month, I started looking for other options.  I tried switching companies, but I’m now over sixty, overweight (not alone among Pagans in being so!) and with minor but irritating health problems that somehow drove my projected premiums up even higher!  So I switched to a lower-cost plan that has a $6000 deductible.  That would keep me from losing my house should I get a serious illness, and having lost five friends in the last five months, mostly to cancer, I can’t ignore that possibility.  I’m still trying to save up the $6000 to have ready in the bank should I need it suddenly—because if I do get sick, I won’t be able to travel and teach which provides the bulk of my income.

Meanwhile, I encountered the dreaded Socialized Medicine when I was in England and needed a new asthma inhaler.  I was able to get an appointment at the local clinic in Totnes—the same day I asked for one.  I saw a doctor, who gave me a new prescription.  He very apologetically informed me that I would have to pay for it, he was so sorry, because I’m not on National Health.  I said that was okay, as an American, I was used to it.  The clinic had a pharmacy on the premises, and the pharmacist filled the prescription, also expressing regret and embarrassment that I had to paid.  He then charged me just over 5 English pounds—less than $10, for two inhalers, each of which costs me about $35 in the US!

I left, infuriated—not at the National Health, but at our own rip-off system.  Why should we pay two, four, seven times as much if not to enrich somebody at our expense?  Since I shifted my insurance, and since my own trusted doctor retired, I haven’t been to see a doctor since, except for a couple of weeks ago when I had a serious bout with asthma after camping out in the desert.  I went to the clinic at the University of California.  I had to fill out a form before I saw anyone, stating my financial qualifications to be seen.  The form informed me that the visit would like cost something in the neighborhood of $450 dollars!  But they couldn’t tell me how much, ahead of time.  No one tells you what any specific treatment costs, before you have it—yet you are expected to pay.  I know there are many preventive things I should be doing, at my age—like keeping a watch on my blood sugar levels, but when money is short, as it often is, I hesitate to make an appointment or sign up for tests that might break the budget.  And I think many others, Pagans and not-Pagans, are in the same situation.

So for me personally, the ACA will help.  The insurance exchanges may allow me to get a better policy at lower cost.  Some of the provisions of the act assure more justice and fairness for everyone.  And while it’s not the National Health or Canada’s public insurance, I believe we are in a better position to push for more when we build on success than we would be if we had to recover from failure.

I didn’t mean to write quite this much.  Do I have feelings about this?  Evidently I do!

Now, as for the ethics.  Our traditions tell us that we Witches were the village healers, the wise women and cunning men who offered herbs and treatment and magic to the sick, especially to the poor.   As such we have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.

I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent.  On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it.  My personal health is not separate from your well-being.  Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control.  If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided.  We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility.  No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us.  Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help.  No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die.  If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.

To sum up, universal access to health care is consonant with our core Pagan values of interconnection and interdependence.  The Affordable Care Act is a small step toward that end, flawed but better than no change at all.  As Michael Moore has said, it should spur us to keep working for a better, more equitable system.  But I believe we’ll do better building on a small success than we would have trying to recover from an abject failure.  I hope as Pagans we can help to lead the way.

23 comments to A Pagan Response to the Affordable Care Act

  • Jessica

    As a European (and pagan), it seems to me that the medical system in the US is really bad. 1200 USD per month just in medical insurances? That’s completely crazy. Getting treatment when one gets ill is a human right (yes it’s even written into the UN Declaration of Human Rights), so it’s scary and sad to see people having to walk away from their homes and everything they built up, just because they get sick. It could happen to anyone.
    The “socialist” medical systems in Europe might not be perfect, but at least they don’t leave people bankrupt.

    • Yes, you said it! Our system is insane, and what’s even more insane is seeing people who are being harmed by it defending it out of some misguided belief in the propaganda they’ve been fed!
      So if your governments try to undercut your medical care, take a lesson from us and don’t let them!

  • Jessica J

    While on the one hand this is something that will be affecting a lot of people in some way, and thus should be addressed, on the other hand I see it as a huge distraction – a continuation of the vast fiction of our society. The more we fixate on that fiction, the less we can remember the way things should be, and dream that reality back into existence.

    We know that all things (all beings) are interconnected. In a healthy community, no one would EVER face injury or sickness alone, but would be supported by the whole community. How messed up is it that people now have to buy this support with money? I think any discussion about how to make this support more affordable monetarily to people misses the point entirely in a fundamental way = real community (that supports people) DOES NOT EXIST in our society. Yes, many of us (though not all) have supportive friends and family, but a true community is more than that. The fact that this debate about “health care” is raging is proof of that, to me.

    The more clearly I see the vast chasm between what currently is and how things need to be, and the more apparent the future changes looming on the horizon become, the more dramatic of changes we need to envision. If we (collectively) fail to step up in this way, the future that we will get will not be pretty – because the Earth and Spirit are bringing changes, with or without our cooperation. The lives of our descendants, and the future of the whole vast community of life are at stake. In light of that, the little boxes the media tries to trap us into (Obama or Romney? etc) are meaningless, significant only in the danger they pose by distracting us from what is really important.

    • Unfortunately, on the way to that total transformation we still have to live. And while health care might seem like a narrow issue, believe me, not having health care when you need it is a much bigger distraction from doing the work of systemic change! These lesser gains are still vitally important to many people–especially those with the fewest resources. They can mean the difference between life and death, literally. So no, i don’t think this issue is a mere distraction, although I do agree with you that much graver changes are needed.

  • moonshine

    I struggle to comprehend the logic of non-pagan society. (my ex calls them braoch, because he hears them as braying donkeys >,<) The greed, self insistence, ingratitude, subjugation and subversion.. none of it makes sense to me. This healthcare move is beautiful as moves in the right direction go. Of course it isn't quite enough. I can only hold out hope that it's a baby steps process. After several small to medium adjustments the big picture should then theoretically shift in it's entirety. I imagine it's like moving a house from unstable ground without completely destroying the structure.

  • sesgaia

    Thanks for sharing your story Starhawk. It’s difficult not to get discouraged sometimes as I confront the reality of trying to get care within a harsh medical system. I believe that taking care of our bodies (striving to do no harm toward our own health) becomes more vital than ever as we operate within systems (medical, environmental, political) that are increasingly toxic. One way to offset some of the dependence we all have on our current medical system is to be as healthy as we can- exercise, pay attention to what we eat, practice meditation for stress, etc. Healthy living is no guarantee against all illness or accidents, but it’s one small way to empower ourselves, and allows us to continue to engage and care for ourselves, other people, and the planet.

  • Sue Gee

    Thank you for addressing this issue from a pagan perspective. There has been so much chatter out there about people concerned with paying for someone else’s troubles. We are all in this together and we all need to take care of one another. ACA is not perfect, but is a good first step toward access to care for everyone. (You should check with your carrier to find out if you have preventive care paid for before your deductible). Blessings.

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  • softbreeze

    Hi Starhawk. Thank you for sharing how the new health care law will impact you personally. I’ve had a hard time really figuring out how the new law would impact those of us that have to use budgets. This spelled it out very well. Also, I agree that society needs to stop pretending that ignoring the needs of others is normal. It is not. We all come into this world as helpless newborns, including those who are today super rich capitalists. Someone took care of them during that period of their lives when they needed it, and I’m sure not for pay, or even if for pay, not for very much money. We all deserve that same community bond and connection.

  • Jullee

    Thank you for sharing your story. I strongly hope all gets better with you. I work for a big health insurance company in New York City, 21 years strong now and as an employee, of course my worries struck me when Congress gave it the ok to pass, but that doesn’t mean I’m against it. Being a union employee, I don’t pay for my coverage. Fortunate? OF COURSE! But… 5 minutes after the bill was given the okay, we received our, “Business As Usual” emails. I’m not stupid and knew this was coming. I know what this means for insurance company workers, union and non union. I’ve seen the premiums go up and up. I’ve seen our Mayor Bloomberg fight the state capital for senior citizens on Medicare’s premiums and then back down when my company merged with another health insurance company to become a “for-profit”. The biggest loss is losing contracts. I go to work and we suddenly HAVE NO WORK! People get sick all the time! The question is always, “are they out sourcing our work?” The answer could be yes, but the reality has become ‘no’. Many people have been terminated which led to no coverage, which led to no work. I’m not angry at Obama. I think the entire system sucks in general, but we should have had a better system years ago. We have great doctors to provide great health care, but does it matter to have good health care if no one can afford it? In my opinion, I strongly believe the “authority” wants to diminish society, but that’s just my coo coo thinking. Thank you for listening and huge hugs & blessings to all.

  • Hi Star,

    I worked in health care, from 1986 to 2000, as a Medical Librarian and from the moment I started, the buzz was about the changes we now fully see. Back in the late ’80s, Health care was pretty aware that these changes with insurance, coverage, outcomes, etc was happening, would intensify.
    Its not like advocates did nothing. And I think I see the answer in much of what you wrote and what others have to say. The vast majority of us are disconnected from this situation, as we take for granted our youthful good health. In America, no one wants to pay for something they don’t really want or feel they need, and this is pretty typical of HC.
    But as you so well have shown, it is redundant, full of waste and not even very good health care, as it avoids being proactive and health maintaining/preventive.
    Do most people know that, perhaps till very recently, neonatal male circumcision is about the most performed procedure in America? Ridiculous! Does the vast majority of men in the world have any greater risk or incidence in the various diseases or situations that result from “not” having this procedure? No.
    That is one of the problems, the complete routinization of many tests and procedures that actually just go to the people who are most insured; white men. Why does any man need annual prostate exams after 40 or now 50 when these cancers are generally so slow growing and low impacting that doctors and specialists now say a man is more likely to die of old age than prostate cancer.
    At the same time medicine for women is nearly pathologized (sic?), for women’s bodies are still considered and taught to be not as good or worthy as women’s. Thats why so many treatments for America’s big health problems, like heart disease, are mostly formulated for men, male-bodies.
    Well, I’ve ranted long enough. Good work, everyone!

  • alien

    Your experience in the UK sounds so much like my experience in Amsterdam! I was studying there 10 years ago when I had the first flare-up of my arthritis/fibromyalgia/whatever my doctors are calling it at the moment. My university had failed to get me the insurance card I was supposed to have, and one of my friends suggested just walking into a clinic and seeing what they could do for me.

    I knew that the Dutch system was much better than ours, but I couldn’t imagine them helping someone who wasn’t even a permanent resident, let alone a citizen. I tried it anyhow, and the woman at the office looked at me very apologetically, like the doctor you saw in England, and said, “Well, you can, but it will cost 20 euros (equivalent to 20 American dollars then).” My jaw just about dropped, and I asked when I could be seen. The receptionist again looked very apologetic and said, “Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait 45 minutes.” I was floored, and OF COURSE accepted. The doctor prescribed an anti-inflammatory, and en route to the pharmacy I thought, “Oh boy, NOW I’m going to finally get the bill from hell.” Again, my jaw just about hit the floor when the charge came up to 7 euros!!! The hilarious thing was that my Canadian friends HATED the Dutch health care system and thought it was incredibly expensive. But on the other hand, it was refreshing to see people who had high expectations of their health care for a change.

  • williamwalter

    We may have met in the late seventies at Ben Boitin home, unitarian church. You talked a little with me. You were talking about the spiral dance and publishing it! You are successful, which is nice to find out all these yrs later! I personally wish Doctors and medical people could use capitalism at the least cost possible like a peace corp method for low income people in America! I have a nice memory of you from back when! williamwalter Wallyworkswell@yahoo.com

  • Moira

    Hi Star,

    I’m very sorry that you lost so many friends in such a short time…

    Therefor my comment is not about the health-insurance-system but I would like to share some insights that I got about the immune-system. As you know it plays an important role concerning asthma and cancer.

    Dieter Broers, a German scientist who works together with NASA, has found out that in 2012 there are many eruptions on the sun. They weaken the magnetic field of the earth. Besides other possible consequences (for example fall-outs of electricity, increasing blood pressure, spiritual experiences of people who are not trained and may become depressive…) this also means that the immune-system of people goes down.

    I observe this in my practice, where people got the flu and other infections for 2-3 times (!) last year although they excercise and eat healthy food.

    Other scientists have found out that four to five portions of vegetables, fruit, salad… which have been recommended up to now – are not enough. They say you should eat 8-9 of different kinds. The reason is that the soil doesn’t consist of enough nutrients anymore – even not in organic food. Therefor you have to eat more.

    The tricky thing is that all vitamins and minerals play together. If one is missing (for example vitamin D) the body can not use others (calcium). Both is important for the immune-system.

    Eat lots of fruit of your wonderful garden and have (natural) supplements with you, if you travel. Stay healthy, we need you for some more time… 🙂

    Love, * Moira

  • vegangrrrl

    Dear Starhawk,
    90 days on a 75% raw and 100% vegan diet should cure your asthma bad reduce your weight and aches/pains. XOXOX

  • Ceri

    Thanks Star for supporting our health service . I find it scary that in the uk our health service is being dismantled by successive governments. It makes sense to me that we have free health care paid by all us as security for all agianst ill health. I don’t mind if I never need it my self. None of us know whether we will have Ms or motor neurone disease or anything else for that matter. Many of us never will but for those who do become ill our health service system offers security. What I find astonishing is that some high and midlde income people here don’t think. They argue that the we can manage without this protection that we are selfish and drain on the economy. Health care is so expensive it means that even rich people it would mean anyone who becomes sick would eventually be unable to support themselves so they would loose their homes ect as people do who have to pay for healthcare under the american health system. It seems quite astonishing they don’t realise they are vulnerable too and it’s for their protection as well. I feel blessed to live in country were health care is free and very annoyed with our local city councillor who is american who thinks that we are selfish when we don’t want to have a system where we pay for our health care services. she does not seem to think she or her family may need this care one day. it’s astonishly short sighted and pushes the debate in the wrong direction.

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