Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Friday, August 28, 2009

More myths about health care

Earlier this week, we linked to an article entitled 5 Myths About Health Care Around the World, which you can read here.

But if you need another reason to read the article, perhaps this excerpt about foreign health care will provide it:
The key difference is that foreign health insurance plans exist only to pay people's medical bills, not to make a profit. The United States is the only developed country that lets insurance companies profit from basic health coverage.

In many ways, foreign health-care models are not really "foreign" to America, because our crazy-quilt health-care system uses elements of all of them. For Native Americans or veterans, we're Britain: The government provides health care, funding it through general taxes, and patients get no bills. For people who get insurance through their jobs, we're Germany: Premiums are split between workers and employers, and private insurance plans pay private doctors and hospitals.

For people over 65, we're Canada: Everyone pays premiums for an insurance plan run by the government, and the public plan pays private doctors and hospitals according to a set fee schedule. And for the tens of millions without insurance coverage, we're Burundi or Burma: In the world's poor nations, sick people pay out of pocket for medical care; those who can't pay stay sick or die.

This fragmentation is another reason that we spend more than anybody else and still leave millions without coverage. All the other developed countries have settled on one model for health-care delivery and finance; we've blended them all into a costly, confusing bureaucratic mess.

Which, in turn, punctures the most persistent myth of all: that America has "the finest health care" in the world. We don't. In terms of results, almost all advanced countries have better national health statistics than the United States does. In terms of finance, we force 700,000 Americans into bankruptcy each year because of medical bills. In France, the number of medical bankruptcies is zero. Britain: zero. Japan: zero. Germany: zero.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Money-driven Medicine

This week on Bill Moyers Journal (airing locally at 9 p.m. Friday on WMHT-TV, Channel 17):
Produced by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room) and based on Maggie Mahar's acclaimed book of the same name, Money-driven Medicine reveals how a profit-hungry "medical-industrial complex" has turned health care into a system where millions are squandered on unnecessary tests, unproven and sometimes unwanted procedures, and overpriced prescription drugs.

As Ms. Mahar notes:
“A physician takes an oath to put his patient's interests ahead of his own. A corporation is legally bound to put its shareholders' interests first. And this is part of the inherent conflict between health care as a business, part of our economy, and health care as a public good and part of our society. Health care has become a growth industry. That means higher health care bills. That means more and more middle-class people cannot afford health care in this country.”

You can learn more here.


Health care myths

There has been much discussion of how American health care compares to health care in other nations, and how that might be affected by proposals to change our system. T.R. Reid writes an article headlined, 5 Myths About Health Care Around the World that we think is worth reading. One example, myth #2:
Overseas, care is rationed through limited choices or long lines.

Generally, no. Germans can sign up for any of the nation's 200 private health insurance plans -- a broader choice than any American has. If a German doesn't like her insurance company, she can switch to another, with no increase in premium. The Swiss, too, can choose any insurance plan in the country.

In France and Japan, you don't get a choice of insurance provider; you have to use the one designated for your company or your industry. But patients can go to any doctor, any hospital, any traditional healer. There are no U.S.-style limits such as "in-network" lists of doctors or "pre-authorization" for surgery. You pick any doctor, you get treatment -- and insurance has to pay.

Canadians have their choice of providers. In Austria and Germany, if a doctor diagnoses a person as "stressed," medical insurance pays for weekends at a health spa.

As for those notorious waiting lists, some countries are indeed plagued by them. Canada makes patients wait weeks or months for nonemergency care, as a way to keep costs down. But studies by the Commonwealth Fund and others report that many nations -- Germany, Britain, Austria -- outperform the United States on measures such as waiting times for appointments and for elective surgeries.

In Japan, waiting times are so short that most patients don't bother to make an appointment. One Thursday morning in Tokyo, I called the prestigious orthopedic clinic at Keio University Hospital to schedule a consultation about my aching shoulder. "Why don't you just drop by?" the receptionist said. That same afternoon, I was in the surgeon's office. Dr. Nakamichi recommended an operation. "When could we do it?" I asked. The doctor checked his computer and said, "Tomorrow would be pretty difficult. Perhaps some day next week?"

The rest of the article is here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Eucharist and health care

In National Catholic Reporter, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton relates the teaching on the Eucharist from John's Gospel to the debate on health care reform. He says:
The President is saying we need to provide health care for everybody. That might mean we have to change something that I already have, not that any of us would ever be asked to give up our health care if we have it. Don't we have to wonder how people who have what they need can be so angry that we're trying to spread this out to others? It seems like there's some kind of terrible fear that suddenly I'm going to lose everything I have, or if the government does it, it won't work, even though we already have government health care that does work.

There's something strange here happening out of fear, and I think maybe some selfishness, that we just don't let ourselves be aware of 49 million people in this country without health insurance. Even many millions of those who have it can't get adequate care. So there is an effort now to spread this so that everyone has adequate care like every other developed country in the world provides.

What is it in our nation that brings people out with such anger, and a seemingly uncaring spirit, especially if they think of themselves as Christians, and especially as we who are Catholic Christians and many other Christians have a sacrament like the Eucharist? The whole sacrament means Jesus pouring himself out for others, giving up himself for others.

It seems to me that as we reflect on this teaching that Jesus has been providing for us the last few weeks, that teaching about the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Eucharist, we have to ask ourselves how can Jesus give us his flesh to eat, his blood to drink and this is a hard saying, "who can accept it?"

If we're going to say, "Yes, I will accept it," I hope we will say it with a full understanding of what Jesus is teaching about the Eucharist, not just that he's present, but that he's present to give himself. When we receive the Eucharist, we too must commit ourselves to what Jesus did: pour out his blood, give his flesh for the life of the world. We have to commit ourselves to do the same thing.

Maybe if we are going to do that, it's good to hear once more what St. Paul says because he makes it very specific and very clear: "Pay attention to how to behave and how to live, what your attitudes are. Do not live as the unwise do, but live as responsible persons. Do not let yourself be ignorant, but understand what the will of God is. Be filled with the Holy Spirit."

Paul goes on to say, "Sing songs and pray, giving thanks to God in the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord, always and for everything."

That giving thanks to God, in Greek, is "be eucharists." The word Eucharist means thanksgiving. So Paul says, "Be eucharists." That's the challenge to us today, to be Eucharists, but in the very way that Jesus taught it, giving ourselves for others as he did.

This excerpt is from the Bishop's homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The entire homily may be found here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Iraqi refugees

The Evangelist has a nice article about some of the 27 Iraqi refugees who have settled in the Albany diocese "through a U.S. State Department program that is administered here and in other regions by Catholic Charities and other groups." And how are the refugees doing?
“Our neighborhood is so friendly; you didn’t see that in Egypt or Iraq,” said Zaid.

“In Iraq, you were afraid to do anything or talk to anyone on the street,” added Ali. “You don’t know if they’re trying to kill you. It’s not like that at all here. They will say ‘hi’ or ‘good morning’ all the time. They may be little things to them, but they’re big to us.”

Of course, that's not the whole story, which you can read here.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Civil health care discussion

Brian McLaren is a speaker, author, and blogger on Sojourners who recently wrote about the health care debate:
Just received this:

I am one of the conservative Christians you refer to in your letter. I did not and still do not support President Obama although I do know that there is reform needed in health care. It just does not need to be run by the Federal government. The reason I do not support the President is his pro abortion views. The Senate bill will mandate government payment for abortion. How an Evangelical Christian or any Christian support a president or a bill calling for the taking of the life on the innocent in the womb is beyond my understanding. Or vote for a candidate that is pro abortion as President Obama has made clear he is. I strongly support the church doing its part in caring for the health needs of the poor. My church[First Baptist] in West Palm Beach, FL has a state of the art medical clinic for the poor along with a ministry to help the homeless and poor with basic needs. If liberal Christians as yourself would spend their time mobilizing the church to do what it is called to do and give generously and encourage others to there would be no need for health care reform for the needy. I would like your response relative to the life issue. I would have posted this on your blog but saw no way to do it. I pray God will change your heart. I find it very interesting that the life issue is ignored in your open letter.

Thanks for your note. I certainly respect your position. I hope we can model a civil conversation on this - as you know, there is a lot of scary miscommunication going on this summer!

Let me respond on three points.

To read the reply, do here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Health Care Reform

With 624 Catholic hospitals and 499 Catholic long-term care nursing facilities in the United States (not to mention those 2,000 years of, well, being Church), the Catholic Church is well situated to offer advice on health care reform. Among the goals of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

* a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity;
* access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants;
* pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options; and
* restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers.

The bishops have a website dedicated to the issues we face in this important matter. You can access it here.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday is Tell the Truth Day

Who knew? Check it out here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What’s the rush?

That’s the questions we have heard from some critics of the proposals to reform health care. Dan Janison at Newsday has an interesting take on the question here.
President Harry S. Truman steered the U.S. from World War II into the Cold War with a hefty dose of anti-Communist oration.

Given some of the overwrought sound bites of today, it might seem surprising that Truman also later wrote in his memoirs: "I have had some bitter disappointments as president, but the one that has troubled me most, in a personal way, has been the failure to defeat organized opposition to a national compulsory health insurance program."

President Richard M. Nixon called for a sweeping new federal health insurance program. Listen to what Nixon - never the toast of the left - said in 1974: "For the average American family, it is clear that without adequate insurance, even normal care can be a financial burden, while catastrophic illness can mean catastrophic debt."

Packed meetings aside, could it be that President Barack Obama's legislative drive for a watered-down version of national health care coverage belongs to a mainstream set of ideas that's generations old?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In Defense of Politics

The editors of Commonweal have an editorial entitled In Defense of Politics, drawn from Pope Benedict’s new encyclical Caritas in veritate:

Catholics who like the word “solidarity” are sometimes suspicious of the word “subsidiarity.” They worry it’s a euphemism for privatization. Catholics who like the word “subsidiarity,” meanwhile, are often uneasy with the term “solidarity”—unless it refers to a Polish labor movement.

In his new encyclical, Caritas in veritate (or “Charity in Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI writes a lot about both subsidiarity and solidarity, and he writes about them together. According to Benedict, not only do the two principles leave room for each other, they are mutually dependent: “The principle of subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa, since the former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need” (emphasis in original).

The encyclical’s treatment of subsidiarity, though not always easy to follow, is remarkable in two ways. First, Benedict applies the principle not only to politics but also to economics. If the state should not be allowed to threaten the interests of local communities, neither should the corporation. Economic globalization must not become a way to redistribute wealth from poor places in one part of the world to rich investors in another. “There is no reason to deny that a certain amount of capital can do good, if invested abroad rather than at home,” Benedict writes. “Yet the requirements of justice must be safeguarded, with due consideration for the way in which the capital was generated and the harm to individuals that will result if it is not used where it was produced” (emphasis added).


Benedict rejects the claim that political power is essentially suspect and beneath the dignity of Christians. “The institutional path—we might also call it the political path—of charity [is] no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbor directly outside the institutional mediation of the pólis.” For some, this is a hard saying. For all, it’s an urgent challenge.

The rest of the editorial is here.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Reading the Bible

The Church’s approach to peace and justice is rooted in Scripture. Many Catholics, however, are not regular readers of the Bible. Now, a staff member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offers ten points for fruitful Scripture reading, available here.

A news release from the USCCB notes:
Reading the Bible should begin with a prayer to open our hearts and minds to the Word of God and end with “a prayer that this Word will bear fruit in our lives, helping us to become holier and more faithful people.” The notion of prayer being the beginning and end of reading the Bible is one of 10 points for fruitful Scripture reading for Catholics offered by Mary Elizabeth Sperry, Associate Director for Utilization of the New American Bible at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Among Sperry’s ten points:
Know what the Bible is – and what it isn’t. The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with the people he has called to himself. It is not intended to be read as history text, a science book, or a political manifesto. In the Bible, God teaches us the truths that we need for the sake of our salvation.

You do not read alone. By reading and reflecting on Sacred Scripture, Catholics join those faithful men and women who have taken God’s Word to heart and put it into practice in their lives. We read the Bible within the tradition of the Church to benefit from the holiness and wisdom of all the faithful.

Reading isn’t enough. If Scripture remains just words on a page, our work is not done. We need to meditate on the message and put it into action in our lives. Only then can the word be “living and effective.”(Hebrews 4:12).

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Kateri Tekakwitha Peace Conference

Harnessing the Winds of Change - The 11 Annual Kateri Tekakwitha Peace Conference -- will be August 14 and 15 at the Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda.

While we remain hopeful that positive change will come and that President Obama and the new Congress will move America forward, we recognize that many of the problems are deep-seated and will require careful discernment, patience and systematic change.

Can we, the American people harness the winds of change and work constructively for our children's future? Will we begin to live up to the promise of America by honoring the U.S. Constitution? Can we achieve the long cherished goal of equality with freedom and justice for all? Will we insure freedom of speech, the right of assembly, habeas corpus and insist upon the unequivocal renunciation of torture?

We know what to do . We know how to do it. It is time to move past the fear and ignorance of the past eight years and work together work for the good of each other, our nation and our brothers and sisters, world wide. It is up to us.

This year’s conference will look at racism, the Middle East and social campaigns for non-violent transformation. Our keynote speakers include, Bruce R. Hare, Emeritus Professor from Syracuse University. He will be joined by Lawrence Davidson and Janet Amighi, members of Academics For Peace, who have traveled extensively in the Middle East and Joanne Sheehan of the War Resisters League.

For directions and more information, go here.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Upper Hudson Peace Action and Schenectady Neighbors for Peace inform us that there will be a Hiroshima/Nagasaki Memorial March, "No More Nuclear Wars," at Central Park in Schenectady on Sunday Aug. 9.

Participants will meet at the Rose Garden, corner of Wright Avenue and Central Park Boulevard at 5 p.m.

The event will begin with a short poetry reading, and then a peaceful march through the park as a commemoration of the lives lost in the world's only use of atomic bombs.

In other news, Pax Christi New Mexico created a 40-minute video entitled, "Hiroshima:Repentance and Renewal,"which “takes us to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to see for ourselves the legacy of the U.S atomic bombings, and the museums which call for nuclear disarmament. It highlights the witness of Nagasaki victim, Takaishi Nagai, including recent footage of his home, and his call for nuclear disarmament. Then we go to Los Alamos, birthplace of the bomb, where the nuclear business is booming, where U.S. museums glorify nuclear weapons and celebrate the incineration of hundreds of thousands in 1945.”

The local chapter of Pax Christi in Delmar, has arranged to have this video shown on local public access TV. Subscribers of Time Warner Cable TV in Schenectady County can watch this film on their Channel 16 thanks to Schenectady Access Cable Council (SACC) which will air the film Wednesdays, August 12 and 19 at 3:30 p.m. and again on Saturdays, August 15 and 22 at 8 p.m. More information on the video is available here.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Vigil

Today from noon to 1 p.m. there will be a vigil with Remember Hiroshima banners at West Capitol Park, by the State Capitol Building at Swan and State Streets in Albany. Participants also will collect signatures on a nuclear abolition petition.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

August Intention

Holy Father’s General Intention for August

That public opinion may be more aware of the problem of millions of displaced persons and refugees, and that concrete solutions may be found for their often tragic situation.


Saturday, August 01, 2009

Building Peace with Justice

Building Peace with Justice is a brief, weekly bulletin reflection on Catholic social teaching written by members of a Rochester Diocese Public Policy sub-committee. This is the reflection for
August 16, 2009

In the second reading from Ephesians we are told that "all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you." When we look into our hearts honestly we see how hard, even impossible, it may be to do what this passage requires. But though it may be impossible for us, it becomes possible and even easy, if we open our hearts to the action of the Spirit.

Reflection: Whenever we discover bitterness or anger in our hearts, towards ourselves or others, let us put aside our condemnations and ask to be filled with the Spirit's life and love instead.