Weekly Wrap 9.4.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Can the Evangelical Left Rise Again?

“The Evangelical left, once a substantial contingent of American life, is now seemingly small and powerless compared to its rightwing counterpart.”

2. Why Every Church Needs a Drag Queen

Nadia Bolz-Weber, everyone’s favorite tattoo-sporting, grace-spouting priest, is back with a new book, Accidental Saints.

3. One Novel Way to Bring Healthcare to Poor Neighborhoods

A local neighborhood health center believes it has developed an approach that works for their clients in poverty — partnering with a local grocery story to combine the shopping and medical experience into one outing.

Health Care Is a Moral and Religious Issue

Health care illustration, sheff /

Health care illustration, sheff /

The theatrics around the Affordable Care Act seem only to be matched by the public’s ignorance about what it actually is. Case in point: when late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel sent a reporter out on the street to ask people their opinions, they felt markedly better about the nuts and bolts of the Affordable Care Act than they did about Obamacare.

Never mind they’re the same thing (sigh).

It seems that a handful of lawmakers have seen to it that our ignorance is sown into full-blown fear, obfuscating the fact that the shutdown – which was largely a fight over the ACA – cost our economy about $25 billion. For those who have been following even on a cursory level, the arguments against the ACA are becoming quite familiar:

· The individual mandate infringes on my freedom not to have insurance.

  • The whole thing costs too much.
  • It’s a slippery slope to a single-payer system.

On this last point, we can only hope the critics are right, particularly since a single-payer health care system is the only model that has offered hard evidence of both covering everyone and reducing total costs. But since we’re not there yet, let’s consider what we do have with this new law.

Supreme Court Poised to Turn Right in 2013 Term

hoto courtesy U.S. Supreme Court

hoto courtesy U.S. Supreme Court

After two blockbuster terms in which it saved President Obama’s health care law and advanced the cause of same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court appears poised to tack to the right in its upcoming term on a range of social issues, from abortion and contraception to race and prayer.

The justices, whose term begins Monday, could rule against racial minorities in two cases and abortion rights in one or two others. They also could uphold prayers at government meetings, ease restrictions on wealthy political donors, strike down federal environmental regulations, and take a first bite out of Obamacare.

Medicare Part D: Another Year, Another Huge Price Increase

High cost of prescriptions illustration, bestv /

High cost of prescriptions illustration, bestv /

I signed up for Medicare last month. In addition to standard Medicare, I added Part D, the prescription drug benefit. My 2013  costs, if they had covered the entire year, would have come to $529 for insurance and $330 for prescription copays.

Today's mail brought the rates for 2014. The insurance premium has increased to $650, or by about 23 percent. Copays have also increased, to $616, or by nearly 87 percent. The total increase — assuming I won't need any additional medications — comes to 47 percent.

I was not happy when President Bush proposed and AARP supported Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit. The idea of insuring seniors' drugs was good. The resulting law, which specifically forbids the federal government from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies, was insane.

How To Make Childbirth Safer (Not By Spending More Money)

Baby being delivered by cesarean, Martin Valigursky /

Baby being delivered by cesarean, Martin Valigursky /

"American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World" 

That's the headline of an article by Elisabeth Rosenthal in yesterday's New York Times. The article includes a chart comparing childbirth costs in seven countries. In the United States, the average amount paid for a conventional delivery in 2012 was $9,775; for a Caesarean section, it was $15,041. Those are the highest prices for childbirth anywhere in the world.

To get an idea of just how high, I made a chart using the figures in the NYT chart. Childbirth costs in the other six countries range from 21 percent to 43 percent of U.S. costs even though American women typically spend far less time in hospital.

South Africa is so dangerous for childbirth that its graph line would not fit on this blog page. For every 1,000 births, there are 56 infant deaths. For every 100,000 births, there are 400 maternal deaths. [Chart by L. Neff; data from WHO]


10 POLITICAL Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus

Jesus at church across from the Alfred P Murrah Memorial by tonystl /

Jesus at church across from the Alfred P Murrah Memorial by tonystl /

In response to my last article, “10 Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus,” I was accused multiple times of being political. All I was trying to do was follow Jesus. So, I thought it'd be interesting (and generate tons more hate mail) to show what a list would actually look like if I were being political intentionally. Like the first list, this is not a complete list but it's a pretty good place to start.

There will be those who comment and send me messages berating me for “making Jesus political.” It's okay. Fire away. Jesus didn't worry much about stepping on political toes, and the Bible insists that governments be just toward the least of these (the books of the prophets alone make this point very clear). Frequently, people who are the most vocal about not making Jesus political are the same people who want prayer in school and laws based on their own religious perspectives. By a happy little circumstance that brings us to my list:

10) Force your religious beliefs and practices on others.

One of the strengths of the faith Jesus taught was in its meekness. The faith he taught valued free will over compulsion – because that's how love works. Compelling people to follow any religion, more or less your personal religion, stands over and against the way Jesus practiced his faith. If you are using the government to compel people to practice your spiritual beliefs, you might be the reason baby Jesus is crying. This does get tricky. There is a difference in letting your beliefs inform your political choices and letting your politics enforce your religion. This article is about the first part.

10 Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus

Footsteps in the sand, hpbdesign /

Footsteps in the sand, hpbdesign /

Lots of people claim to be “following Jesus” and then they do stuff like this. Sure, people who follow Jesus do these things all the time, but you can't say you are doing them because you are trying to follow Jesus' example.

(Clearly, this is not a complete list but it's a good place to start).

10) Exclude people because they practice another religion.

Jesus was constantly including people, and he did it with a radical disregard for their religion. We do not have a single recorded incident of Jesus asking for a person's religious affiliation before being willing to speak with them or break bread with them. We do have several records of Jesus seeking out those who happen to practice faith differently from him. There was even this one time when he used a hated Samaritan as an example of how we are supposed to take care of each other.

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.

Baby Boomer Nuns Help Revolutionize Health Care

Since Vatican II American Nuns have  worked to fill in the gaps of the American health care system. A new documentary chronicles how these nuns changed the Catholic Church's social justice movement. CNN reports:

"Vatican II was the spark that showed the church isn't just the hierarchy, it's the people," Fishman said. "Sisters from all over the country were inspired to work directly with those that needed their help. These faith-filled people became the most vibrant part of the church who went on to get people excited and passionate about doing God's work and creating real change."

Read more here.