Healthcare Lessons in a Crash

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on September 8, 2007. 

Some time ago a congress of honest men refused an appropriation of several hundreds of millions of dollars to feed our people. They said, and meant it, that the economic structure of the country would collapse under the pressure of such expenditure. And now the same men, just as honestly, are devoting many billions to the manufacture, transportation and detonation of explosives to protect the people they would not feed.

–John Steinbeck, from The Sea of Cortez, 1941

Last month, after a lifetime of riding a bicycle and after more than five years of cycling seriously for pleasure and fitness, I experienced my first real accident. I was riding down a mountain road, going maybe thirty miles an hour, coming out of a blind curve, when I saw a pickup truck pulling into a driveway, across oncoming traffic. The truck was too close and I was going too fast. My brakes locked and I hit the pavement.

I often hear stories about folks in such situations and usually their stories involve visions of God beckoning beyond a blissful light, or perhaps autobiographical images flashing through the mind. My own reaction was more terrestrial. As I slid down the road toward the rolling tires, I was asking myself “how am I going to pay for this?”

I am gainfully employed as a clergyman, and while I’ll never get rich doing what I do, my congregation provides me with respectable compensation, including excellent health insurance for my family. However, even with a good health plan, our family budget cannot really accommodate more than one big ticket medical event at a time, and my crash came just three weeks after my wife had had her gall bladder removed.

I mention this because President Bush recently vetoed a bill that would have expanded the Federal Government’s role in providing health care for children. His reason for preventing the expansion was that he did not want to create an entitlement program for the American middle class, whose medical insurance needs, according to the President, are better served by private industry.

I suspect I may never have felt the disconnect between the White House and my house more acutely than when President Bush vetoed the bill that would have expanded government funded health care for America’s children. Many people are not as fortunate as I am. If I, with a good job and excellent insurance, have a hard time paying for my family’s medical care, then I know it must be nearly impossible for a huge number of Americans who, like me, take home an average paycheck at the end of the month but don’t have the kind of benefits my job provides.

Thankfully, my crash didn’t result in injuries requiring medical attention. I missed the pickup and treated my road rash with Hydrogen Peroxide and a serious slug of tequila. Evidently, the President has confidence that American middle class children will be similarly lucky, and I pray he is right, but I don’t share his optimism.

15 thoughts on “Healthcare Lessons in a Crash

  1. It’s a great quote from Steinbeck that will send me in his direction to read….”Sea of Cortez”.
    My first pastorate was in Salinas, Steinbeck’s home. He was not honored by his birth town. He wrote like a foreigner, a communist and sounded un-American. It’s strange that now the town library is named after him and the Presbyterian Church where he attended Sunday School is now a chic luncheon site.

    I’m glad you made it safely through your accident, Ben. We need you!

  2. Ronn,

    Thanks for the notes and for you good wishes.

    I’ve been enjoying “Sea of Cortez.” It is an odd jumble of scientific research, travel writing, and pithy reflections on life.

    When I lived in the Salinas Valley the city of Salinas opened a second library out in Alisal, and named it after Cesar Chavez. Go figure. If you want to have the city of Salinas name a library in your honor, all you have to do is be someone who is hated by the city establishment.


  3. Oh, my. Politics, as usual, and meretricious arguments from the left, as usual.

    For those who follow such matters, it should come as no surprise that no rational president could have approved this measure, as presented.

    The Democrat-controlled Congress presented a hugely expanded re-do of the SCHIP program that, among other goodies, expanded the “poverty level” qualifying income for a family of four to $83,000 annually — or four times the nominal poverty level in New York.

    It also expanded the definition of “child” to age 25. (Hmmm…if that’s the case, then let’s hear it for a constitutional amendment that raises the voting age to 25…)

    And here’s where politics, as usual, kicks in: the Dems in Congress did this so that the argument then becomes — “Bush will argue in favor of tax cuts for the rich while he vetoes health care for poor children.” Well, health care for “poor” kids born into families with incomes at 200% of the poverty level.

    OK. But those on the left who buy into this argument have no reason to complain when they hear the canard from the right that a refusal to vote more funds for the Iraq matter is a refusal to support our troops.

  4. Bill,

    Politics or not, $83,000 is just a little bit more than I take in each year, and if it were not for the excellent health care required by the Presbytery and provided by the church I doubt that I could afford health care for my family of five, at least not while living in Silicon Valley where housing costs are so high.

    It is a serious and growing issue. Healthcare costs are on the rise, and each year my insurance covers less and charges the church more. Even two years ago, I would not have been worrying about paying for injuries sustained during a bike accident, but the amount we have to pay out of pocket has more than doubled in the last few years.

    The president is looking to private industry for a solution, and so far private industry is only charging me more for less coverage.

    I’m of the opinion that we need government is the only entity large enough and strong enough to provide a solution.

    The issue of troop support is not analogous. Those of us who want to discontinue war funding believe we are supporting the troops, not because we’re cutting back on their supplies, but because we believe best way to support the troops and the military families is to bring the US service personnel home from a war that was a mistake from the get go.


  5. Ben, delighted to learn you came away from your accident
    with only scratches and bruises. Sounds like someone up
    there was watching over you — and it wasn’t your insurance
    company or the Federal Government!

  6. It amazes me that Bush & company still drag out worn-out phrases like “socialized medicine” to beat back good policy. Does anyone worry about socialized anything anymore?

  7. Ben, good to hear that you were not seriously hurt in the accident, though I did have a little smile come to the corner of my mouth at the picture of you sliding along on your arse, did you swear? Did you? Be honest!!!

    My point is this, Thank goodness I don’t live in America. If anything happens to me here in Scotland I can get myself to the local Accident and Emergency Department and will be seen, if not life threatening within a couple of hours, free of charge, God bless the NHS.
    The National Health Service, despite it’s faults, (something that we all like to gripe about here for it’s failings) is probably the single most important thing we have in this country.
    Our Doctors and Nurses may not be the best paid, but the service and care that you experience whilst in hospital would make you think that these people were self motivated millionaires rather than doing it for a genuine love for people and job satisfaction, and for that I will be eternal grateful.
    I, through playing football (soccer to the uneducated) have been to hospital many times with broken limbs and torn ligaments and I have never worried that I may not be able to afford it.
    I think that through all the tax paid to the your Government, the least they could do is supply the U.S population with a bit of medical care.
    Just think about the money spent on wars in Afghanistan (has bin Laden been found yet? I thought we had satelites that could read a matchbox from space) and Iraq, (anybody seen a WMD?) if that had been spent on the healthcare of the population of the U.S.
    Maybe that is the Socialist coming out in me.
    anyway Ben
    keep well
    love to Anne and the kids
    Alba gu Brath

    (cheeky wee Chilean Cabernet tonight!!)

  8. Craig,

    Thanks for the post! Good to see you on the Lions’ Den!

    I confess I dropped the F bomb up there on Mt. Hamilton.

    You have expressed something we don’t hear much in this country, that is praise for the NHS. We always hear about long waits and substandard care on this side of the pond, which is more than a little ironic, given the fact that I had to take a week off of work to drive Anne (and the kids) five hundred miles to San Diego County to get a proper and timely diagnosis for Anne’s gall bladder last summer, and if I had needed emergency medical attention after my crash (provided I wasn’t in critical condition) I would have been driven to a nearby hospital where I might have waited up to four hours to see a physician.

    So it goes. Bring out the socialist and let it stand tall. I actually think nationalized health would be a boon to the US economy. As we have it now, most people have health insurance through their employers, and many American small businesses cannot grow because employee health benefits are too expensive. I would be willing to bet that Scottish small businesses are doing better than their American counterparts in part because of nationalized health care.

    Americans fear higher taxes, but I’d be interested to see the numbers side by side–the taxpayer cost of health care vs. the money Americans already are spending on insurance and medical bills. I be willing to bet that public health care might save us money.

    Anyway, I’m rambling. Long live Chilean cab (I think we’ll open Syrah from Mendocino County, my childhood stomping grounds).

    Greet Michelle warmly,
    and Alba gu Brath, indeed!



  9. Kristen,

    Thank you for your post.

    What interests me about they way conservatives scare Americans with words like “socialized medicine is that the United States already has a form of socialized medicine, in that those of us who, through our insurance, can pay for health care, underwrite the cost incurred by those who cannot pay. No one believes that a truly sick or injured person should be denied care if she or he cannot pay for it. So our system is disorganized socialism, which is a mess no matter what you call it or how you break it down.



  10. Craig,

    Regarding Goering’s quote, I’ll let Bill speak for himself, but I suspect that Bill would disagree with the idea that he’s channeling the man.

    Nonetheless, Goering’s observations are being made manifest among us.

    I found it interesting that the US senate and house of Representatives have both passed legislation that would classify Iran’s revolutionary guard as a terrorist organization. When President Bush signs the legislation, the US will have taken the extraordinary step of redefining the meaning of “terrorist” by applying the word to a foreign military.

    Which gives Bush permission to go to war with Iran, and if he does, it means that Iranian soldiers will be “unlawful combatants” and subject to Guantanamo.

    Meanwhile, we cannot afford to cover the health care of American kids because we have to fight the terrorists of our own inventions.

    Scary stuff.


  11. Ben it was mainly this point that I found ringing throught the post

    ‘denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism’

  12. Got it. Sorry for the goof. (For those readers who aren’t me or Craig, I approved the wrong of two attempts by Craig to post).

    It certainly is good that my friend JJ Chacon got me set up with this easy website program, because if it were any harder I’d never survive!

    But to your point. That issue–the idea that peacemaking is not patriotic–is a painful one for a lot of us who are (or who try to be) peacemakers. It is similar in sentiment to the idea that support and sympathy for the plight of Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation is anti-Semetism.



  13. Thank you for sharing about your incident to give another perspective on this challenging issue Ben. Though I don’t have a solution to this problem, I think that habitual truth-telling would be one step in the right direction.

    I once worked for the then-largest healthcare provider in the US, Columbia HCA. The hospital where I worked (in the marketing department, mind you) called itself a “tax paying” hospital and the other facilities in town “tax exempt.” After leaving that job, I worked for the largest hospital system in our region (again in marketing) which referred to itself as a “non-profit” and the other nearby hospitals as “for profit.” What I know from my decade in healthcare marketing is that there is no free care. It’s always “paid for” whether directly by those using the service (individuals, employers, governments) or indirectly by way of tax exemptions, tax write offs, etc.

    What happens in Congress, the media, and even in dinner-time conversations is that people talk at each other using a combination of catch phrases, slogans, and rhetoric. What I believe we need to do is start communicating with each other using attentive listening, empathy, thoughtful questions, and undisguised, unspun, unvarnished truth. No matter what “side” of this issue (or other issues) we fall on, the way we come to a solution is by following a different path than this dead end debate.

    Thanks for being one voice in that conversation. I’m glad to know that your injuries were only minor. I hope you’re already back on your bike or will be soon.


    P.S. I’ve tagged you with the “8 Random Facts About Me” meme.

  14. Shonnie,

    Thanks for the post. My bicycle, Mt. Hamilton, and I have been reunited. In fact, I hope to get a ride in this afternoon…


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