health insurance

Short Takes: Nia Zalamea

Nia Zalamea
Nia Zalamea

Nia Zalamea is a board-certified general surgeon. After five years in a traditional medical practice in rural Virginia, she joined the Church Health Center, an organization in Memphis, Tenn., that seeks to reclaim the biblical commitment to care for our bodies, minds, and spirit. She is one of two general surgeons in the U.S. who does full-time charitable work.

1. Why did you leave traditional medical practice? I went into medicine to serve; it was the one craft and skillset I could offer to an individual in front of me. But after five years, I found out that I wasn’t actually living my mission; I had put five people into bankruptcy. What I saw in rural America was that even one operation could completely derail not just one generation but multiple generations. Not just in terms of economics, but in terms of social capital, education, and everything we know that affects health and medical care.

2. What exactly does the Church Health Center do? The Church Health Center is a medical wellness home for the underserved, the uninsured, and the underinsured of Memphis. We provide surgery on a sliding scale; if someone can’t afford the surgery, it gets written off. The hospital supports the surgery in not charging the hospital fee, which is a huge chunk of the cost. So it’s not free, but the out-of-pocket cost for the patient is extremely low. We just make it affordable.

3. What are some of the barriers that prevent your patients from having access to health care? We have ongoing workshops during open enrollment to get people on to Affordable Care Act plans, but what is deemed “affordable” is not always affordable; the majority of my patients are 150 to 200 percent below the poverty line. Another barrier is access: Just because you have an insurance card doesn’t mean the doctor will see you. And this is where a lot of the injustice lies; many doctors’ offices and businesses have closed their doors to new Medicaid patients. Finally, the Affordable Care Act doesn’t cover everyone; my patients include undocumented immigrants, refugees, and patients from other countries whose children are being treated nearby at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

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Why Single-Payer Healthcare Funding May Not Work in America

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Of course Obamacare is failing. 

Not quite as badly as No-Obamacare was failing, so I'm still glad it exists. It's a necessary stopgap until we find a system that actually works. But you know what? Single-payer healthcare will fail just as badly.

Yes, I know that single-payer healthcare systems succeed in other developed nations. I also know that competitive insurance-based healthcare systems succeed elsewhere. But neither system will succeed in the United States, because the U.S. is the only nation on earth that refuses to keep healthcare spending from spiraling out of control. If the cost remains the same, it doesn't matter who's paying. In the long run, we all are.

Cherish Each Moment — Even the Sucky Ones

Elizabeth Palmberg (photo by Heather Wilson)

ELIZABETH PALMBERG—Zab to her friends—says her motto is “Cherish each moment, even the ones that suck.”

Nine years ago, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She has had her ups and downs in her battle against cancer, but many moments in that journey have undeniably sucked.

In 2001, Zab was a college professor in California when she applied to be an intern at Sojourners. We decided her Ph.D. (in Victorian literature) perhaps qualified her to do the data entry and fact-checking work required of our editorial intern, and when her yearlong internship was over we invited her to become a full-time member of the editorial staff.

She’s been gracing us, and our readers, with her brilliant analysis and quirky wit ever since. Her knowledge, passion, and insight informed and often challenged those of us who’ve worked closely with her—and led to outside recognition as well. In 2011, for instance, Zab joined a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia, visiting communities engaged in the difficult work of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Her report on the trip—the last feature she wrote for the magazine—was honored by the Associated Church Press as the best news article of the year.

In November 2012, she wrote on her blog, “Just as I was planning a big six-year hey-they-cured-my-cancer party, it turned out I have cancer again.” Months of difficult treatment followed, and she chronicled the good times and the bad with (most of the time) her sense of humor firmly intact. For instance, she wrote that “technically, the exact wrong thing to read [during chemotherapy] is Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, which also happens to be the wrong thing to read in almost *every* context—that book really puts the “ick” in ‘Victorian.’ My deepest apologies to the one class I forced to read it. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

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'Courage! Your Faith Has Made You Well'

JASON COOPER LOOKS out at the audience gathered in Restoration Church and asks, “Is it God’s will to heal?”

The former art school classroom, where the Pentecostal Dover, N.H., congregation meets, is nearly full, even though it is a Thursday evening in April. In addition to the 70 or so regular members who have come to hear Cooper preach, there are nearly a dozen visitors. One woman leans heavily on a cane. Another can’t turn her head from side to side and needs neck surgery.

They are casualties of slow research and expensive health care. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health-care policy think tank, health expenditures have increased 10-fold in the past 30 years. Though some health- care increases can be attributed to longer life spans, the high costs of drugs, hospital stays, and doctor visits have been compounded in the wake of the recession.

A young woman tensely watches Cooper as if he might explode at any minute. No one knows exactly what he will do. The audience fidgets in response to his question. Cooper, with his soul patch, slick black haircut, white button-down shirt, and stone-washed jeans, looks a little like a Vegas magician.

But Cooper is a traveling faith healer.

Restoration Church is a member of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination that believes faith healing is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit available to all Christians. It is a modern church of about 170 members, with a worship team that includes electric guitar players, a bassist, and a drummer. Its logo, a stenciled yellow “R” on a black background, is as trendy as an Apple icon.

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Young Adults Reluctant to Enroll in the Affordable Care Act

California is the facing a new challenge: getting young adults to enroll in the Affordable Care Act.  More than 2 million Californians, ages 19 to 34, are uninsured. Getting these individuals enrolled is crucial to balancing the cost of older, sicker patients. The state is developing media strategies to specifically target young adults and encourage to them buy insurance. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The success of the healthcare law "depends on reaching everyone who is uninsured, but particularly young people who may feel like they don't need insurance," said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Read more here.

Review: 'Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father — And How We Can Fix It'

Cover: Catastrophic Care
Cover: Catastrophic Care

This week the company my husband works for unveiled the health-insurance plans available to us beginning July 1. If we chose the plan closest to our current plan, our premium would nearly double and our office visit co-pays would increase 25-50 percent.

I am so glad we are going on Medicare in August.

Medicare isn't perfect by any means. It isn't even cheap. Just the insurance (Medicare medical, Medicare supplement, prescription) is going to cost us more than $500 a month, and that doesn't include the deductible or the prescription co-pays. And that's for this year. Who knows what it will cost 10 years from now?

I was so ready to read a book that would solve America's health-care crisis.

Besides, David Goldhill's title is irresistible: Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father - And How We Can Fix It.

Affordable Care Act Is a Step in the Right Direction

“So what brings you in to the clinic tonight?” I ask, beginning a conversation with a middle-aged woman in typical fashion.

“I need some help with my medication,” she tells me, digging into her purse for the packaging from her last filled prescription.

“It’s for high blood pressure, but… I can’t afford it anymore.”

I take a look at her chart.

“Oh!” I say, pleased with my growing ability to recognize medications without aid from a reference text. “I think that’s on the Wal-Mart list. We should be able to give you a prescription for the generic which will be just four dollars per month at Wal-Mart.”

“I know,” she says. “That’s what I was prescribed. I can’t afford it.”

I don’t talk much about the Affordable Care Act in day-to-day conversation, even with the Supreme Court’s decision last week to uphold its constitutionality. In fact, I try to avoid it. It’s just not a conversation I’m poised to treat as small talk, simply because it’s a conversation that goes way deeper than I think most people realize.

News Analysis: Bishops’ Contraception Objections Fail the Church's Own Moral Reasoning

BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images
A woman shows condoms with a picture of Pope Benedict XVI, "I said No!" By BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images

The president's plan meant that religious employers — mainly Catholic universities, hospitals and social service agencies — would not be involved in paying for or administering something they deem sinful: contraception. At the same time, all employees would still have access to the same contraception benefit, no matter whom they work for.

Critics of the president's plan, however, didn't see it that way.

"Dangerous and insulting," a group of leading Catholic bishops wrote to their fellow churchmen. "A cheap accounting trick," Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon and several other leading culture warriors complained in an open letter that has generated more than 100 signers.

The "compromise," said New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, "asks the parties involved to compromise their reasoning faculties and play a game of 'let's pretend' instead."

Yet that "game," as Douthat put it, is actually a venerable tradition in Catholic moral theology that for centuries has provided a way for Christians to think about acting virtuously in a fallen world.

New Poll: Public Divided Over Birth Control Insurance Mandate

Info graphic via Pew Research Center.
Info graphic via Pew Research Center.

The American public is closely divided over the federal rule that would require employers, including most religiously-affiliated institutions, to cover birth control as part of their health care benefits, according to the latest survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

On Feb.10, the Obama administration announced it would modify the mandate in response to criticism that the rule would force religious organizations to violate their religious beliefs in providing contraception coverage. The latest Pew survey shows little difference in opinions among people interviewed before the administration’s proposed modification and those interviewed afterward.

The "War on Religion" and the Contraception Debate

There likely was little Sabbath-ing for politicians and journalists this weekend, as the debate over health policy raged across the campaign trail and in the television studios.

In a fiery comment piece in The Los Angeles Times, David Horsey reported that at CPAC, Mitt Romney pledged that he would “reverse every single Obama regulation that attacks our religious liberty and threatens innocent human life in this country.”

Speaking on Face The Nation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that the contraception controversy is an issue of religious freedom.

Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum laid out his position on the situation very clearly on Meet The Press.

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