Friday, December 07, 2007

Health Issues and the Faith

Two sort of unrelated ("random," in my daughter's parlance) ideas that grew out of conversations this week:


News in today's paper got a rise out of two of us in my home (blessed spouse, remember, works with an organization that manages health and other services for people with physical disabilities, most of whom are on public assistance): The former CEO of UnitedHealtcare (the country's largest HMO, as I understand it) has entered into an agreement with the SEC to give back something totally over 600 million dollars in stock options and compensation in exchange for closing the investigation into illegal stock-option back-dating. The guy's compensation one year topped a billion dollars, so this won't send him to the County Home. Other officers of the company (including the company's chief lawyer) have made deals to return unseemly or illegal compensation under similar terms. (I can't tell from the news coverage whether this removes the threat of federal criminal charges against them.)

My question is a simple one: If a company which manages healthcare is profiting so much that it can pay billions a year to its chief employees, why is no one blaming that as a contributing factor to the crisis in healthcare in this country? Could not those billions go to making premiums more affordable? By what possible stretch of the imagination is anyone's work in one year worth a billion dollars?

If Clarence Jordon, of the Cotton Patch Version paraphrases/translations of the New Testament were still kicking around, I can see him doing something like this: "Blessed are you. For I was ill and you provided healthcare insurance for me." You can do the "depart from me" passage on your own.


I have climbed the soapbox to decry the non-pension system and healthcare system of the ELCA (my home denomination). I am especially concerned for those pastors and their spouses who labor in rural areas where their salaries are very low, where parsonages are provided, where healthcare is difficult to procure, and the like. (I'm thinking of rural North Dakota, but there are lots of other places.) I have made the claim that under the current system, those people are disadvantaged in the extreme in their retirement years, because many of them have not been able to set aside enough to afford to move to more cosmopolitan areas, where healthcare and assistance with aged living (et. al.) are more readily available.

Well the answer came up in conversations with some spouses of retired pastors: The ELCA needs to build some retirement complexes for pastors. Cost of living there should be based on an ability to pay. Services should include assisted living aides, meal services, and all the other amenities that a good retirement setting includes. These should be located in major cities in Luther-ville so that people need not abandon the areas where they are comfortable in order to avail themselves of the plan. Thus, for example, Fargo, Minneapolis, Gettysburg, Columbia, Austin, et. al. could afford locations. Costs of the project would be borne in part by the residents, part by insurance plans, part by donations.

It's time we do more for the economically disadvantaged pastors who have served faithfully. So perhaps I need to write a letter to my friend, Em Cole, the new chair of the Board of Pensions.

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