bigger barn

Sin of the Self

by Abigail Conley

I write just as the American Health Care Act was pulled from a vote today. Current life circumstances mean my partner and I rely on insurance through the public Marketplace. For the first time, I kept close watch on what was happening in and around D.C. because of a deeply personal interest.

For the last ten or so years, I’ve been covered through health insurance available for purchase by individuals. I remember the higher premiums for women. I remember the twenty-four month waiting period before pregnancy was covered by insurance. I was turned down for health insurance. I had the catastrophic coverage and the good stuff, and a couple policies in between.

No one says the Affordable Care Act is perfect. After it was passed, though, the forms to get health insurance went from a multi-page health history (think what you fill out at the doctor’s office on steroids) to one page of basic information like contact information and social security number. Preventive healthcare was free all of a sudden. My premiums weren’t based on gender. There was no waiting period for maternity coverage. My millennial friends all started talking about and getting IUDs; the ACA meant there wasn’t a several hundred dollar copay for one of the most reliable forms of contraception any more. The changes were life-giving for not only me, but many others.

The Affordable Care Act changed a lot of policies for the better, even as I write knowing that my deductible and premium are both too high, especially compared to just a couple of years ago. Yes, I miss the lower premiums I had before the last year or two. I also realize many more of my neighbors now have insurance, and part of the deal is sharing their cost. I’d rather do it with tax dollars, but that’s a whole other very broken conversation.

Actually, we could talk for a long time about the brokenness of our healthcare system. There’s a photo of a receipt floating around the Internet right now. The receipt is for having a baby at McKeesport Hospital in McKeesport, Pennsylvania in 1943. The cost was $29.50.  That is $415 and some change when adjusted to 2017 dollars. Yes, our healthcare system is broken. The range of the cost of giving birth now is anywhere from free to several thousand, depending on your insurance. It’s only one example in vast, complicated, broken system.

Yet, even the deep fracturing is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is self. Somehow, we have created a place where we prioritize the individual over the community. God knows, it doesn’t stop at healthcare.

I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told about a man who had so many crops one year that he had to build bigger barns to hold them all. He had no idea he would die that very night. Most translations call it The Parable of the Rich Fool. The most striking part about the parable, though, is the man’s isolation. The conversation in the story is only with himself:

And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’  Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ (Luke 12:17-19)

The concern for his own wealth and welfare, presumably in the midst of other people’s need, cuts him off from everyone around him. As I watch not just the healthcare debates, but so many conversations where there is concern about profit and the individual at the expense of the community, the corrective of the Gospel echoes, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you!”

May God forgive us for the sin of self.