Who exactly are our neighbors?

Proselytize alert….In the wake of events of last week, and the perpetuation of the vitriol and tendency to strike out at those who are polarized on an issue, I reflect on this statement made by a Pharisee to test Jesus in his knowledge of what is necessary to attain eternal life.  And when the Pharisee answers, “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, being and strength and love your neighbor as yourself…he pushed Jesus further to define who is neighbor was.  Jesus then told the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Simply stated, the story is of a man who is mugged and beaten and left on the road to die, while a Levite and a priest both passed by, it is  a Samaritan, (basically the untouchables of that time) who took pity on the man and took care of him.  When asked who was the true neighbor in the story, they replied “the one who treated him with mercy.”  Jesus then commanded that they go and do likewise.

When I think of the healthcare system, I am reminded of this parable, not from a political perspective but from one of mercy.  When people are sick and in need of help, we shouldn’t differentiate them by their status, or whether or not we are obligated to help by some legal measure, but because we are commanded to love our neighbor with mercy.  I’ve worked in healthcare a long time, and I can say with certainty that the system in this country right now is not based on mercy, but money.  Notwithstanding the clear fact that there is a distinction between political and religious ideology at place here, I do maintain that the clear root of many Americans is a religious faith that demands that we render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  But when we are presented with the necessities of attaining eternal life, the expectation is clear, to love God with everything we’ve got and to love our neighbor as ourselves with a universal mercy that isn’t subject to any clear definition except for being in need…then that sensibility trumps any law in my book.

I don’t think Jesus was advocating that people who place themselves in need by their own hand should be shouldered by the rest of us, there are plenty of other parables defining personal accountability.  But to those who are needy because of an unforeseen circumstance?  We are obligated to show mercy, and therefore help them.  In today’s healthcare, I don’t see mercy and a sense of understanding what being a good neighbor is.  I think demanding people take the necessary steps to account for their health is a clear tenet of acting merciful.  For those of us who are willing to be responsible, I am as frustrated as many other Americans when it comes to health care insurance.  I spend more on insurance in a year than my yearly salary at my first job…  insurance that we never use because we strive to stay healthy for one, and we still pay for because of the high deductible we carry.  From the other end of it, I know from my work at our clinic that we make less than our overhead most months because insurance cuts our reimbursement every year, some every six months, and then cut claims far beyond and reason or mercy I can think of.  From a business perspective, they cut reimbursements because Americans are getting sicker and sicker and there are more and more claims coming in every year.  Pharmaceutical  companies tether the people of this country to medications and don’t spend the necessary time figuring out what the problems with really are.  It is difficult to serve people in need and keep one’s head above water these days.  One patient, when looking at our full day sheet, claimed “You guys must be rich”  and the lead-like feeling in my stomach that went un-expressed was that we are so far from it that I do keep awake at night wondering what the future has in store for us.

I do, however, feel the reward expressed by the trust of an incredible group of people in our practice who have a thirst to learn how to stay healthy and that is why we come to work every day.  We mutually serve each other as neighbors and it is only through them that I remain hopeful.  This should never be an issue of polarizing politics, but one of mercy and service and how best to do it in a way that we are all accountable, yet can put into action the command of mercy toward our neighbor.  Every person in this country deserves  healthcare.  While I certainly understand how complicated it is, I actually read the ACA and it is quite the document, we can’t get off track by political rhetoric that either deifies it or defiles it as un-American.  Last time I checked, both ends of the spectrum are American and to suggest otherwise is the utmost disregard for the kind of mercy and love for our neighbor that Jesus spoke about.  I suppose that was the point that Jesus was trying to make: it is easy to quote what is necessary for eternal life, but in practical terms, much harder to implement.

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