Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Taking the Pulse of Health care:
Christian Citizenship Seminar Introduces Youth to Complex Issue

How many Americans lack adequate health insurance? What global benchmarks are set by the Millennium Development Goals? How are epidemic conditions in Africa being addressed?

Seventy-two senior high youth and advisors tackled these questions and others as the state of health care received a check-up at this year’s Church of the Brethren Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS). The event began March 24 in New York and concluded five days later in Washington, D.C., with an assortment of presentations, small-group discussions, a United Nations tour, worship, and sightseeing in between.

Many speakers focused on the merits of a “single-payer” health care system, which would eliminate the insurance companies as an intermediary in the process. Instead, standard rates would be negotiated by the government in each region, similar to what is done in Canada and in many nations in Europe and elsewhere. While funded publicly, care would still be delivered privately.

“The present system is sick and just doesn’t get the job done,” said Bill Davidson, a Church of the Brethren cardiologist from Lebanon, Pa. “Heath care is the next big social battle that’s going to take place, and you as young people have a front-row seat.”

Davidson, who has become a strong advocate for universal health care despite some opposition from within the medical community, said that the huge profits currently being reaped by insurance and pharmaceutical companies could easily be redirected to provide health care for all Americans. He noted that the World Health Organization currently ranks the US No. 37 in overall health care worldwide.

Marilyn Clement, national coordinator of Healthcare - NOW, focused on House Resolution 676, which proposes a United States National Health Insurance Act, guaranteeing universal access to high-quality and cost-effective health care. Clement’s organization is leading a petition drive for the bill to be passed.

Palmyra (Pa.) Church of the Brethren pastor Wally Landes observed in an opening session that Brethren have often not chosen the easy road in a quest for mutuality. “Issues of health and wholeness are in our bones as Brethren,” Landes told the group. “I think God’s will is for wholeness, and sometimes stuff gets in the way.”

One day of the seminar focused on the more specific health issue of AIDS, which is still running rampant, especially in Africa. Church World Service (CWS) policy analyst Kathleen McNeely outlined the work being done in Africa through the CWS Africa Initiative, tackling issues of water, hunger, and poverty in addition to HIV/AIDS. “Africa has got to be given a chance,” she said. On the Millennium Development Goals, many of which concern Africa, she noted that we are about halfway to the target date of 2015, “and we’re not doing so hot.” Delegates at the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference endorsed those goals last summer.

In the evening after McNeely spoke, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Church of the Brethren pastor Phill Carlos Archbold related his personal story of caring for AIDS patients, using photos to show the devastation the disease brings. “I want you to go back wherever you came from and begin to make a difference,” Archbold said. “You can do those kinds of things for people who are hurt and who are needy.”

Youth later in the week lobbied their representatives in Washington on the Senate and House bills they had learned about, following a session on advocacy by Greg Howe, who grew up in York (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren. Howe, now a senior policy manager on health care reform issues under Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, described his call to advocacy work and offered pointers. He said that while many states are working at the issue, “we need a federal solution.”

While the youth still clearly had some questions at the end of the week, it was also evident that the issue-and the larger concern of advocating for justice as part of one’s Christian witness-had struck a chord with many of them.

“It’s amazing how many different programs we can get involved with,” said Alex Otake of Lombard, Ill. “There’s no excuse for us not to do anything. It’s just a matter of choosing.”

Phil Jones of the Witness/Washington Office rounded out the sessions on Thursday morning with tips and ideas on how the CCS participants could move forward in their advocacy and education around this issue. “You have accomplished a great amount his week”, he stressed, “now go back home and continue to be engaged in this issue of justice.”

- portions of this article from Walt Wiltschek, editor of Messenger. He attended this year’s Christian Citizenship Seminar.

Source: April 2007 Witness to Washington Newsletter

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