Friday, May 6, 2011

Hill Tribers and Health Care

There have been a lot of blogs this week taking place in a Rally to Restore Sanity, not the Jon Stewart one, but one focused on how Christians talk to one another. It's no secret that most of us are Christians at HCHT, but we come in peace. We work with anyone and everyone happily.

But I want to talk a minute about being a Christian and some of the things I've heard in Christian circles about health care. I realize health care is a difficult and complex political issue. I have a lot of friends who have children with complicated medical situations and I realize that not one solution suits everyone. But while this debate has been raging amongst people around me, with often very ugly generalizations made about the "poor" who need to get a job, I thought I'd weigh in on what I've seen.

I have spent the last three years working with refugee immigrants in the Austin area. In that time, I know of maybe three families who have had to get serious medical care and did not have a job. All of the other families had at least one person who was working as many hours at as many jobs as they could get to pay for the basic necessities of their lives. Many of them have several children and the women are often not literate in their own language, much less English (which is why we started our non-profit in the first place, to help those women make supplemental income weaving and sewing products to support their families). In those three years, we have spent countless hours on the phone with MAP, Medicaid and Medicare, talking to Volunteer Clinics, dentists, OBGYNs, in the emergency room, at children's hospitals, in labor and delivery--you name it, we've been there.

We are NOT equipped to deal with the medical emergencies. By we, I'm talking about the 5-10 of us who are friends with the refugees. When my husband Jonathan and I started dreaming about a non-profit, we made a list of things we could handle and things we were not doing. Number 1 on the list of things we could not handle were medical issues. We have tried our best not to get too involved, to direct our friends to the right agencies, or to put ourselves or our church in a position of paying for medical coverage. Our philosophy has been the approach of the refugee agency here in town: they want to help refugees figure out the bus route so they can go to the appointments themselves rather than relying on their American friends to do everything for them.

But there are some situations we simply cannot or will not walk away from, some boundaries we run helter-skelter across. Three months ago, we found Ibrahim dying on a mattress in his apartment, vomiting what looked like blood (and turned out to be beetle nuts they all chew). We called 911, knowing we were getting ourselves in way over our heads. A month later, he was out of the hospital after several surgeries and the possibility of dialysis. No one in their family has a job yet; we're not sure how they're going to make it. The medical bills are piling in, including that phone call for the ambulance we made, and yet we would do the same thing over again. They had to have medical coverage or he would die.

I visited a church once in which they spent much of the class time talking about "those people" on Medicare, taking their tax money and having babies (someone's suggestion was that we sterilize a woman after her first baby on Medicare. Yeah.). I'd like to tell you: "those people" deserve health care too. Their children deserve good medical treatment just as much as my babies do. The working husbands who have jobs without health care flat-out CANNOT pay for it. The women are covered when they're pregnant, but that's about it. They all deserve to not make the choice about whether to go to the doctor or feed their families. That's not a hypothetical choice, by the way, but a real one we see all the time. It's rent, groceries or health care. Guess which one they pick? "Those people" are dealing with a system so jacked up that we, the American friends, have spent up to 20 hours on the phone on one day with Medicaid being looped back and forth to the exact same people. I speak English and I don't know what's going on most of the time. I'm getting my doctorate and I can't figure out most of those forms. How people who don't speak English are supposed to navigate this system is absolutely beyond me.

I don't know the answers (I suspect they're not political), but this is more than a debate, these are real life people who really just need medical coverage. So if you'd like to have a rhetorical conversation about health care, great. I suggest, however, that you come spend a day in their shoes first. Meeting their basic human needs is something all of us, Christian or otherwise, should be passionate about.

(If you disagree with me, these are Jessica's opinions, not necessarily those of everyone at Hill Country Hill Tribers, but we're all pretty sad and ticked off at how hard things are for the working poor, so it just might be!)


  1. Yes, yes. I would love for people making policy decisions to walk a mile in these (new American) shoes.

  2. Thanks for your really honest and thoughtful post Jessica. This is a subject I have struggled so much with over the past three years. It's so sad to me that in the "land of opportunity" there are only "opportunities" for those who can show you the money. Having lived in a place where everyone, regardless of where they were born, how much the make or anything else is able to receive a basic need like medical care it makes me so sad that we have decided to make it a luxury here in America. I have high hopes that through your work and others like it we are able to change our attitude and truly live like Jesus would have us live.