Justice

"Epipen Outrage: Unbridled Greed and The American Health Care System"

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”  I Timothy 6:10

The cost of drugs is something that I have been keenly aware of for more than a decade now.  In fifth grade, my daughter, Michele, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Over time and trial, it was determined that the best option for Michele was drug therapy which would be given through an infusion every two months.   The drug would not cure her illness, but it would treat her symptoms and hopefully allow her to stay in remission.  We are grateful that drug has done its work and Michele has been able to live in the most comfortable way possible with her illness.  Over the years, she has had approximately sixty such treatments. The charged cost of the medicine to treat her illness over this time is about $750,000.  That doesn’t include the doctor or hospital bills, the charges for the use of the infusion center room and the other medical supplies that have to be used during her infusions.  Just the main medicine has come at a cost of about $75,000 a year.  I am extremely grateful of the relief that this medicine gives to my daughter and for the doctors who cared for her and recommended this course of treatment.  The care given to her has been exemplary and the outcome for us could not be better.

I also know that my family has been one of the better provided for when it comes to caring for someone with a chronic illness.  In addition to having major medical insurance, there was rebate program for the medicine provider in which we could take part and we did.  Still, even with the insurance and the rebate program, because of deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses, and pharmaceutical co-pays, Michele’s medical bills averaged between $400 and $500 a month.  It was a significant percentage of a pastor’s salary.  Again, my family was fortunate.  Some members of the church I was serving for much of that time helped us cover those monthly expenses. For that gift I will always be grateful. Like, I said my family has been one of the better provided for when it comes to medical care for someone with a chronic illness.

My own journey through medical costs came to mind this week when I heard that from 2009 to 2016, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, maker of the Epipen has raised the price of this medicine, which can be life-saving for those with certain allergies, by more than 400 percent. In 2009, a two-pack Epipen cost $100 and now that same product costs $600.  A vial of the medicine, Epinephrine, can be bought on the open world market for about one dollar.  Appearing before congress, Mylan’s CEO, Heather Bresch, said that the price increase was not the fault of Mylan, but America’s health care system.

Bresch argued that a lack of transparency in the complex health care system -- with bigger cuts for everyone along the supply chain -- "incentivizes higher prices" in the industry. She pointed out that copays and deductibles are on the rise, too. (CNN, August 25, 2016)

As she passed off the buck of responsibility to “the system,” I honestly found her words hard to swallow since the 400 percent rise in the cost of a life-saving drug coincided with a 671% rise in HER compensation package.  During the same period of time, her compensation rose from $2,453,456 to $18,931,068. (Chicago Tribune, August 25, 2016)  I do not think there is a coincidence here.  While some families dealing with life threatening allergic reactions, were having to decide what they could cut from their budget so they could afford this potentially life-saving medication, she was personally profiting to the tune of $17,000,000.  I do not have trouble calling such profiteering evil.  It is done at the extreme expense of others, even possibly the expense of someone’s life. 

I believe one of the primary problems with the medical system in America is simple greed or as the author of I Timothy writes, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  The greed of pharmaceutical and insurance companies, is destroying the idea that health and well-being is a basic human right in which all people deserve quality care.  Leaders of such companies lack a moral compass when they can accept millions of dollars in increases while people struggle to afford the medicines that they provide.  Last year, another pharmaceutical CEO, J. Michael Pearson of Valeant, said that the company’s primary responsibility was to the shareholders.  He did not mention those who might benefit from the use of his company’s drugs.  His concern was profit margin alone – not care for the sick (US Uncut, October 2015.)

Such unbridled greed has cost much damage in our nation.  Not only does it lead many families to have to make decisions between medicines and some of life’s other necessities such as food and clothing, it has also led to many families being virtually destroyed financially.  The number one cause of personal bankruptcies in America is medical expenses which accounts for about 62% of all bankruptcies.  And, 72% of such bankruptcies from medical expense are even filed by people who do have some type of medical insurance. (The Huffington Post, March 24, 2015).

There is much discussion in the current political debate about health care and most of it centers on the Affordable Care Act and the prospect of universal health care and the sky-rocketing cost of medical care.    I believe the church has an important role to play in this conversation.  We can speak out for those who live on the edges and who fall through the cracks when it comes to being humanely cared for.  We can also dare to speak about the greed which is driving too much of our current system, calling greed what it is – evil.  In addition, we can speak up about the social and moral responsibility companies and corporations need to have.  This, I believe, is our Christian responsibility.  To work for a more just and equitable world.  Quality health care is a right for all and not just a privilege for those who can afford it.

I am glad my daughter is well and I owe lot to all those who make her health possible.  I want to work for a world where we are not just the fortunate ones, but a world where everyone has the same kind of fortunes we have been given.

 

(Un)Gratitude

By Rev. Mindi

I am participating in the UncoSynchro blog, a writing collaborative effort from #‎Unco14, focusing on subversive themes of faith and life. The theme for November is (Un)Gratitude

This Thanksgiving, I am not thankful, not grateful, for the non-indictment of Darren Wilson.

I am ungrateful that once again, an unarmed black teen is shot by police. That once again, a black teen is depicted as a brute, a monster, and that the police officer had no choice but to shoot and kill him.

I am ungrateful that few of my white friends are speaking about this, except to urge for people to protest peacefully, when violence has interrupted the lives of a black family once again.

I could go on and on, but I want to lift up some other voices—what you can read, and how you can respond:

12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson Here is a sample of what white persons can do to educate themselves about the history of racism in the United States and how white people can act.

#StayWokeAdvent The hashtag #StayWoke has been used on Twitter throughout the last 100+ days since Michael Brown’s death. People are reflecting on the season of Advent and how we can actively participate in God’s justice here on earth. This is part of the Faith in Ferguson blog, following the #FergusonTheology hashtag.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Read it all the way through. If you are white, reflect on your place in that letter. How are you responding to the events in Ferguson?

I am ungrateful that this keeps happening. Just this week, a twelve-year-old boy was shot and killed by police. He had a BB gun pistol with him. He was playing with it on a playground. Someone saw him and called the police, but even in the call to 911, the caller said it was a toy gun.

I am ungrateful for toy guns. I cannot tell you how many times this summer at various playgrounds boys were playing with water guns and other toy guns and pointing them at me and my son. I was upset about it. After all the school shootings we have had, which I am also ungrateful for, I am ungrateful that parents still think toy guns are all right to own and fun to play with. I am ungrateful for the fact that no one bats an eye when white children play with them, but when a black child plays with a toy gun, he is assumed to be aggressive and assaulting other children.

I am ungrateful for our culture of preserving property and rights to own property, specifically guns, over the rights of children and teens and young adults to live.

I am ungrateful for the response of burning cars and looting stores and throwing rocks at police officers. I am. But I am much more ungrateful that we focus on those actions rather than all the other actions that have led up to this moment. I am ungrateful for our history of slavery, of segregation, of racism that is engrained in our society. I am ungrateful for the schools to prisons pipeline.

I am ungrateful that the white mainline church will continue to remain mostly silent on Ferguson, on Michael Brown’s death, on racism in general.

I am ungrateful that white voices continue to permeate the discussion, calling for order and restraint and setting the boundaries and limits of conversations about racism. I am ungrateful that so many believe racism is of the past.

I am reminded, however, that our Savior was also of a people and culture despised in his day; that he was labeled a criminal unjustly; tried and convicted, sentenced to death by capital punishment; and that he rose on the third day.

He rose.

This is not over. Justice will rise. Black voices will not be silenced. For that, I am grateful.

Part Three: The Transformative Power of Compassion - Justice

Dr. Mark Poindexter

This is the last in a series of articles about the transformative power of compassion for congregations.  As many local churches struggle with aging membership and declining resources, there is a plethora of strategies and programs that are offered to “turn things around.”  I have been involved in many conversations, both formal and informal, concerning this matter.  Somewhere along the way, it became clear to me that any faithful congregational revitalization/transformation effort needed to be rooted in compassion. 

I define compassion as the capacity to identify with the needs of others and then to work toward the meeting of those needs.  I proposed that compassion has three aspects. There is sympathy which involves the ministry of presence and is a key element in the building of community.  Sympathy is at the heart of the mutually supportive care we are called to provide to one another in the body of Christ. There is also charity which involves our response to the immediate needs of people who, for whatever reason, are not able to meet those needs on their own.  The third sphere of compassion is justice.  This is the sphere in which our work is to try and ensure that all people have equal access to the bounty of God’s creation.  Justice is the work that is rooted in our belief that all people are created in the divine image and are of equal worth.  Justice is that aspect of compassion which calls us to work toward the world that so many of us pray for each week, where the ways of God are known upon earth as they are in heaven.      

The pursuit of justice calls for the followers of Christ to be engaged in such matters as fair housing, health care, the epidemic of violence that has taken place in our culture, issues surrounding immigration and refugees, treatment of prisoners, education for our children, etc.  Justice is that which calls us to be involved in the struggle for human worth and dignity.  This is the area of compassion that some folks want to avoid, because it has political implications. Of course, not being engaged in matters of justice has political implications too.  I don’t believe that the gospel calls us to be anything less than involved when it comes to the matter of human rights.  That struggle affirms the oldest of the truths we claim, that all people are made in God’s image and are worthy of the respect that is due to someone of such divine heritage. 

Many years ago, Jerry Falwell said that “Preachers are called not to be politicians, but soul winners.”  That came at the end of an interview in which he said the Supreme Court erred in its 1954 decision to desegregate public schools (Brown v. Board of Education).  He said the facilities should be separate and that “where God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross it” (“The Nation,” May 2007). History could not have proven him to be more wrong. The struggle for civil rights was the very kind of struggle the church should have been engaged in. Thanks be, that a portion of the church understood that.  Wherever and whenever there is an instance concerning human dignity and worth the body of Christ has an appropriate place and should have a clear voice.  Not every congregation is called to battle in every arena of justice.  I don’t think any church could have that much energy.  But I feel certain every congregation can have a certain voice about human value and worth and a specific place where it can give the energy and talent it does have.

Finally, though I believe compassion as defined the last three weeks – sympathy, charity and justice – is at the heart of any faithful effort at church transformation.  It is, for me, not ultimately a strategy for transformation.  It is the path of faithfulness to Christ.  The ministry of our Lord Jesus was rooted firmly in compassion.  The incarnation expresses God’s sympathetic and caring presence with us.  God didn’t just create us and leave us be, God in Jesus came and walked among us sharing in all that is human – our life and our death.  Jesus’ compassion was expressed in many acts of charity, providing healing and restoration for those whose situation in life pushed them to the edges and reduced them to begging.  And Jesus stood firmly in the role of a Hebrew prophet questioning the “powers that be” and “the rules that were” which continued to divide people into the have and have not’s, the included and the excluded.  This is why compassion is at the heart of transformation/revitalization, because it’s about following Jesus.  And a congregation that is faithful to its Lord is a vital church no matter how many people are in the pews.   

The Transformative Power of Compassion: Sympathy, Charity and Justice

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

For quite some time, I have been engaged in various conversations about church transformation.  These conversations often involve words like “vitalization” or “revitalization,” “technical change” or “adaptive change,” “modern” or “post-modern.”  Such conversations have often taken place in an informal way, whenever I am with some of my clergy colleagues and we start talking about the present state of the church.  I have also been part of these conversations in a formal way as I have tried to lead the congregations I have served in looking at what it means to be the church in this day and time.  In addition, I served as part of a two year Task Force in the Indiana Region of the Christian Church devoted to the topic of transformation.  This task force was known as The Manna Process.

If I were to take all the conversations that I have been involved in concerning the topic of church transformation and boil down what I have learned into a single thought, it would be this, “Church transformation happens when we put compassion into action.”  Another way to state it might be, “Church transformation happens when we quit looking at ourselves and start looking at others.”  I believe, fervently so, that the revitalization, or the vitalization, or the transformation (or however you want to describe it) of the church is to be found by putting compassion into action.  I understand compassion to be that human capacity to identify with the needs of others and then to work toward the meeting of those needs.  In my understanding, compassion has three main areas of focus and I want to use my next three [D]mergent posts to discuss each of these areas.  I do hope it is a discussion, because I would like to hear what others have to say about this matter.  Like I said, I have been part of these conversations for quite some time. 

I have come to understand the three areas of compassion as sympathy, charity, and justice.  I don’t mean to imply that these three areas are completely distinct and different from one another.  Indeed, they are all aspects of the great virtue of compassion.  Using the three terms, however, has helped me to understand the fullness of compassion and how it is at the center of the church’s life in whatever sphere the church is present. 

This week, I want to focus on sympathy.  Sympathy is that aspect of compassion which causes us to share in the feelings of another, especially in times of sorrow or trouble.  Within the church, sympathy plays a significant role in the establishing of relationships and the building of community.  It is this understanding of sympathy that is at the heart of Paul’s words to the church at Rome, “Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Weep with those who weep.”  It is sympathy that allows folks who are a part of the church to be supportive and encouraging to one another as we journey through the difficulties of life.  Sympathy is often at the heart of what is called the ministry of presence. At its finest, this community of a mutually supportive presence becomes a light to others of the way human relationship is to be lived out and the way human community is to be formed.  This is why ministries to those who are grieving a loss, or those who are going through times of mental or emotional struggles, or those in the congregation who are having financial struggles, or those who have just had a difficult medical diagnosis, must always have a prominent place in congregational life.  People should experience in the church a community of caring, a community of sympathetic support.  Paul also wrote in his second letter to the church at Corinth, that the consolation we experience from God empowers us to console others in their affliction. Eugene Peterson, translates it this way in The Message:

He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through a hard time, so that we can be there for that person just as God is there for us.

I understand sympathy to be that expression of compassion that is found most fully in our circle of existing relationships, among our family, our friends, and our church community.  Sympathy is a primary source of our love for and ministries to one another.  When folks speak of feeling cared for by their church, they are speaking of experiencing the church’s sympathy and thus, in our understanding of faith, the sympathy of God.  Our hope, always as the church is that our sympathetic and caring relationships with one another will never create a sense of a closed community, but a community who cares for all who wish to be part of this community where we laugh and cry with each other. 

My intention isn't meant to imply that we don’t have feelings of sympathy for those outside the circle of our immediate relationships.  In fact, it is often our feelings of sympathy that can take us into new relationships and circles of friends.  For years, I was involved with Hospice.  After a difficult loss in my own life, I had deep feelings of sympathy for those who were experiencing a significant loss and were looking for help.  So my years as a volunteer Hospice chaplain was a commitment rooted in sympathy. It was this commitment that broadened my own sphere of relationships. 

What I am trying to say, is that in our existing relationships, compassion often takes place in feelings of sympathy, understanding and acts of care.  This aspect of compassion is very important for the church when it comes to revitalization or transformation.  For honestly, if we don’t or won’t care for the people sitting next to us in the pew, how will we ever learn to have compassion for anyone else?  And that is what compassion ultimately calls us to do, to care about others whether they set beside us or not, which is where we will go the next two weeks as we talk about charity and justice.