Why US Healthcare is Sick and Congress cannot fix it

Fr. Joel Society Today

Fr. Joel

The government is currently in the process of "fixing" health care. Before they fix health care, maybe we should look at what else they fixed recently, like the US financial system. Is anybody else worried? I recently read an excellent article, "U.S. regulators could learn from Canada’s banks." Even after the financial shake-up, Canada ranks #1 in financial stability in the world, compared to the US at #40. What makes them more stable is not so much the regulation as the mentality of the banks. Here are a couple quotes:

"Canadian bankers act less like Wall Street’s masters of the universe and more like sedate, green-eyeshade types. Regulators aren’t the enemy; they’re an early-warning system that signals financial problems before they blossom into catastrophe."

"In the U.S., some blame the financial debacle on the 1999 repeal of a Depression-era law that prohibited commercial banks from owning investment banks. But Canada notably allowed such mergers for more than a decade without incident before the U.S. scrapped its Glass-Steagall law. Conservative management made the difference."

The difference between Canadian stability and American financial market meltdown is not so much the set of regulations but the mentality with which they are applied. I believe that this is the key to understanding the health care crisis in America. The problems with the US system are not so much regulation or finances but a certain mentality. I think we make two fundamental mistakes: the Money Mentality, and the Unhealthy Society.

Problem #1 – The Money Mentality

In generations past, health care was considered a charity. Churches and communities funded hospitals and clinics for the good of their people and for the poor. This is why so many hospitals used to be named after a saint or something like Community General. In recent history, health care has morphed into a very powerful mega-industry. And now not only is the patient lost, but doctors and hospitals are existing for the wrong reasons.

Consider this:
I am skiing down a mountain and come upon a fellow skier who has cracked his head and is bleeding badly. So I take him quickly to the nearest clinic.
"Who’s going to pay?", they ask. They look for insurance cards or ID’s, but nothing. "Will you pay for his care?," they ask me.
"No, I only just met him."
Now, of course they are going to fix him up; it would be shocking if they turned away a bleeding man because he didn’t have money. So how come we consider them obligated to care for him even if he cannot pay? It is because health care is closely tied to the right to life. It saves lives, which are priceless.

The problem with modern health care is that it will give you anything, provided that you foot the bill. A pregnant mother gives birth and they present her with the baby and a bill for $25,000. But the hospital wants to seem caring, and no one feels cared for when the bill collector follows them out the door. So we have invented health insurance agencies, where the parents get the baby and the insurance man gets the bill. But health insurance only makes the problem worse. First, it adds a second layer of bureaucracy. Because they are paying they get to say what they will pay for. It intrudes into the doctor-patient relationship. Second, it adds an extra layer of cost. A whole company stays afloat shuffling money around between patients and doctors. Third, the insurance company eliminates free choice. Now I can’t go to a doctor I choose if he isn’t in the plan. Boardroom negotiations limit the choices of individual patients.

The whole payment structure is the problem. An article on the loss of primary-care doctors said: "The biggest problem is the payment model," says Sameer Badlani, an instructor at the University of Chicago’s school of medicine. "The more procedures you do, the more money you make. That is why, in a procedure-based specialty, a physician can make about four to five times the annual salary a primary-care physician can earn." (USA Today, "Doctor shortage looms")

Doctors are necessary for a healthy society. Being necessary is the ticket to making lots of money. But at its essence, health care is CARE for the sick and vulnerable. These are people whose health has been damaged beyond their ability to fix it. They are not in a position to shop and negotiate. What if someone called the parish and said, "I need to talk to a priest. I am really struggling", and the priest responded, "I would love to sit and talk but that will cost you $50 per hour." Imagine how shocked you would be to hear that story. Well, that is what the health-care mega-industry does to patients every single day.

When pharmaceutical companies advertise on TV, are they looking to improve the lives of patients or make money off them?

When hospitals refuse to settle malpractice claims until they are served with a lawsuit, do they have the patient’s best interest in mind?

When lawyers rake in millions with a tear-jerker of a story about little Johnny who can’t walk, even though the doctor could not have done anything better, is the patient truly served?

When doctors order extra tests so that the hospital can make ends meet, who is being served?

Doctors deserve to be compensated, but no one can really pay you enough to give your life to make the lives of others better. Where a mentality of service is lacking, the money will never be enough. The problem is the mentality of money, and Congress isn’t going to fix it.

Problem #2 – An Unhealthy Society

Health care does not exist only in hospitals and clinics. Health care is something we do every day. Clean water, clean air, and good healthy food contribute to health. Exercise, diet, lifestyle choices and jobs all affect health care. We as Americans tend to eat too much and exercise too little. Grocery stores are filled with bad-tasting vegetables bred so they would look good on the shelf. So instead we turn to processed foods and frozen pizzas. We pay little attention to our body’s need to sleep, relax and rejuvenate. Until something goes tragically wrong and we expect the doctor to fix us. The doctor cannot undo years of bad choices.

The second problem with health care is that it cannot save us from ourselves. We are fragile and mortal, prone to injury and death. So much money is spent at the end of life simply because people cannot accept the natural role of death. Just as our health will eventually give out if we fail to protect it, so the whole industry cannot survive under the crushing weight of an unhealthy society.

As much as Congress has tried to get America active, we have clung to our TV remotes and stubbornly resisted. So now that you have read this incredibly long post, you must realize that it isn’t just the industry that is at fault. You and I are part of the problem, and we could be part of the solution too. So get off your duff and do something active for 5 minutes and then go eat a healthy meal. Your body will thank you, and so will your doctor, and so will your country.

Fr. Joel’s Homily for Aug 15

Fr. Joel Homilies

Aug15 – The Assumption and a Wedding (10:13)
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Wedding Mass today falls on a beautiful Feast of Mary. What can Mary teach us about married life? First, she shows us how to give ourselves completely to God and one another. Secondly, she shows us the importance of constant communication. Third, she reminds us to protect our own purity and that of our spouse. If you follow Mary’s example, you too will be able to sing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…” (15 Aug 2009)

This weekend we had guest preachers doing a missionary appeal, so they took most of the Masses and all the homilies. This homily I recorded at my Saturday wedding. The Solemnity of the Assupmtion takes precedence over the wedding Mass, which means that we could take one reading from the wedding liturgy and the remaining readings and prayers were from the holy day. It was a unique challenge for a preacher. I have included a picture of the vestment that I mention in the homily. It was a gift from parishioners of my last parish.

Life on the Edge, Day 4

Fr. Joel Church meets World

So you expected me to post day 3 next, didn’t you? HA!! Day 3 we went white-water rafting down the Cache la Poudre river (the name means Cache of Powder, dating from the voyageur days). But I didn’t get any pictures that day and we all know how boring it is to read a post without pictures.

This charming picture of one of our leaders was taken at our 7am breakfast stop. At that time we had been on the trail for almost 3 hours and had traveled about half the distance to our destination, Flattop Mountain. We were also just below the treeline.

Here we are now above the treeline (about 11,000 ft.). Bathroom facilities become more and more scarce the higher you climb.

We were hiking in two “Platoons”, one from Wisconsin and one from Iowa. Here is the Wisconsin Platoon pausing at a scenic overlook. You could see California and parts of mainland China from this particular spot, that’s how high we were.

This is the barren wasteland above the treeline. Scoured by winds and freezing temperatures, it was teeming with life. Marmots, pikas, ptarmigans and spiders were everywhere.

Here’s a great view looking down Flattop Mountain into the valley. Somewhere in the distance is Estes Park.

Here is a picture from Flattop Mountain looking up to Hallet’s Peak which rises 400 feet higher.

Here we are milling about taking pictures from the top of the mountain and scaring one another because we all look so close to death. Really the mountain slopes slowly down, so people only look close to death. But 12,713 feet high makes dizzy just thinking about it. Of course, it took us most of the afternoon to get down again but we were all tired and happy and proud of one another.

Praised be Jesus Christ…
now and Forever!

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Life on the Edge, Day 2

Fr. Joel Church meets World

Our second day we hit the trails once again in the Rocky Mountain National Park and started at the same trailhead. A mile or so up the trail, we took a turn and headed up steeper trails.

After a long series of switchbacks we saw our first glacier (it was really just a pile of snow, but hey, this is the beginning of August). What do you do with a big pile of snow? Well, you sit and wait for the next squad and then pelt them with snowballs!

Pink Squad, my hiking group for the day.

This is Timberline Falls. We reached it after a long climb up steep trails. Our destination was Glass Lake that sits above the falls. We had to crawl vertically up wet rocks to arrive at the lake, and the waterfall is much higher than it appears in the picture (the trees give you a clue).

Because my squad arrived first, we were told we had to climb back down the waterfall, take the packs from the slowest group, and carry them up the waterfall. I was exhausted at the end.
As we hiked back down the trail, we could see how high we had climbed.

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Life on the Edge, Day 1

Fr. Joel Church meets World

I just spent the last week of my life in Colorado. It was a trip of about 50 people, half from Wisconsin and half from Iowa. We had squads with 6-8 teens in a squad and a couple of adult leaders per squad. The Oshkosh squads were known as Pink Squad and Green Squad. This trip is an opportunity for kids to encounter Christ through the beauty of His World and the beauty of Christ’s Catholic Church.

We slept in cabins at a place owned by the Salvation Army and hiked in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Our first day was meant to acclimatize us to the altitude. Here we are hiking along a 2.5 mile route.

Alberta Falls:

We arrived here at Mills Lake and I celebrated Sunday Mass on a rock in the lake. It was a fantastic experience. The wind was gusting to 25 mph so I made some people stand behind me like a wind screen.

You can see in the picture above where the tree-line ends. Think of how much work God must have put into this part of the world, just so the elk could enjoy it.
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Fr. Joel’s Homily for Aug 9

Fr. Joel Homilies

Ord19 – Seminarian Appeal (8:13)
Ordinary Time, 19th Sunday. The prophet Elijah is exhausted and prays for death, but God feeds and sustains him. Our Church is tired too and sometimes seems to have little hope. But we have good news — God continues to work with, call and inspire young people. Our Diocese now has 22 seminarians and 10 of those are new this year. We are doing our yearly Seminarian Appeal and I ask you to please be generous. Pray, Encourage, and Support young men and women as they seek their vocation. I hope that they can discover the same happiness I have found. (9 Aug 2009)

More information on the seminarian appeal.

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Fatherly priesthood

Benjamin Priesthood

Thanks to everyone who sent, “We’re glad you’re a priest,” greetings for the feast of St. John Marie Vianney. He poured everything he had into his priesthood, and God added a little more and made it special!
Some people commented that they wanted to let me know I was doing a great job because they knew it was hard. I had bought my brother a coffee mug which said “Fatherhood, the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Although priesthood is not easy, I would not trade it for the whole world and everything in it. If you live the priesthood like fatherhood, it is the best life you could ever give away.

One Boy’s Generosity (17th Sunday, July 26)

Fr. Joel Homilies

Ordinary Time, 17th Sunday. The first reading shows how Elisha the prophet feeds 100 people with the generosity of one man, who gave his first-fruits to God. In the same way in the Gospel, the 5,000 are fed because one boy was willing to give all he had to Jesus. We are invited to do the same. Will you keep everything back, or give a little, or will you too give everything to Jesus? (26 Jul 2009)

Evil proves God exists

Benjamin God & Faith

– Fr Benjamin

Atheists will argue strongly that God does not exist, but evidence for the non-existence of God is a little hard to come by. They generally point to all the evil in the world as proof that God does not exist. If a good God really made the world, why would we have wars, racism, violence, exploitation, hunger and famine? Therefore, the argument concludes, a good God does not exist.

However, most atheists deny the existence of any evil spirit like the devil. What proves the devil does not exist? Could they point to all the good in the world as proof that the devil does not exist?

Just as atheists have to account for all the good in the world without pointing to God, they need to account for all the evil in the world without pointing to the devil. So they are forced to attribute all the wars, violence and exploitation to human beings. The problem is that most of the people we meet are good people who just want to live in peace. If most people just want to live in peace, why isn’t there peace? Atheism’s favorite target is to blame religion for the crusades, terrorism, unrest and violence worldwide. The problem is, a huge amount of violence is not religiously motivated at all. Most murders, robberies and wars have nothing to do with religion. The holocaust and Stalin’s purges were atheist horrors of violence far worse than all the religious crusades put together.

Instead of blaming religion, many will blame ignorance or lack of economic development. As countries become more educated and developed they no longer want to engage in wars. This is only partially true, since the United States has low literacy and is technologically highly developed but still engaged in war.

I firmly believe that no natural explanation can justify all the violence we see in the world. If most of the people in the world want peace, there should be peace. Why can the United States put a man on the moon, but putting wells in poor countries is too difficult and expensive? Why can we develop a GPS system, but it is too hard to develop a world trade system that helps the poor? It seems that despite our good intentions, we are thwarted in tasks that are not logistically very hard. Peace treaties fall apart, however, war is declared, and more lives are lost. Our best intentions are thwarted…by evil!

Those who promote pro-life causes or fair trade, who champion environmentalism, or are opposed to the exploitation of animals all have a similar experience. They see people who are intelligent, reasonable, and kind, suddenly become abusive when the conversation drifts into territory that challenges behaviors. Why can people be reasonable and logical in every other topic but not in this one?

Far from proving that God does not exist, the evil in the world proves that there are evil forces active beyond human reckoning or human control. Humans are generally good people, but evil sometimes gets a hold of them and moves them in terrible directions. This is the only explanation why a generally decent man can murder his brother, or a decent, peaceful country can declare war on another decent, peaceful country. This is the best explanation why intelligent people who are curious about everything do not want to know where their meat comes from.

Evil, however, always has a limit. The Spanish say “No hay un mal que cien años dure,” there is no evil which lasts a hundred years. Today, we can go to the Nazi gas chambers as a museum, not as prisoners. Totalitarian communism, which threatened to trap the whole world behind an iron curtain, has already collapsed. Many would say, “It collapsed because it didn’t respect human freedom.” But we should ask, “Who wrote the law that says human freedom must be respected?” Yes, evil exists, but it does not endure. Good might struggle, but it survives. This, for me, is the strongest argument that the world was made by someone who loves what is good.