A group of citizens, including myself, who support a single-payer "Medicare For All" health care system gathered in front of Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in Minneapolis on Friday, April 30, 2010 to draw attention to the affects of Governor Tim Pawlenty's drastic cutting of hospital funding. A couple months ago, Governor Pawlenty vetoed funding for the General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) that had previously provided good quality health care to Minnesota's most vulnerable patients. HCMC is now warning that most of Minnesota's public hospitals will no longer be able to take GAMC patients without this necessary funding.
Some Republican legislators who reversed themselves to support Pawlenty's veto, like my own state representative, Tara Mack (who is married to a Christian minister) ironically tried to justify their lack of compassion by pointing to their beliefs that only private charity and not government health programs are virtuous according to the Bible. So I tried to quote a few Bible verses myself in the following letter to the editor of our Apple Valley This Week Newspaper.
Mack and her supporters shot back a number of self righteous responses falsely claiming not only the moral, Biblical high ground but that the cuts to GAMC they voted for were saving "the taxpayers more than $700 million while still providing coverage to the poorest Minnesotans relying on GAMC". Just one problem: none of their claims about such a perfect compromise solution are proving true.
Tara Mack Votes to Sustain Pawlenty's Veto of GAMC
On Monday, March 1st, the Minnesota House of Representatives narrowly failed to override Governor Tim Pawlenty's veto of General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC). The bill, which originally passed the House 129-9, would have extended the GAMC program for an additional 16 months while a long-term solution to the problem is sought. The people affected by the Governor's veto are the sickest of the sick, the poorest of the poor. Many are suffering mental illness, substance abuse problems and homelessness and many are veterans.
Tara Mack who represents Apple Valley was one of the 46 members of the House who voted to uphold Pawlenty's heartless veto (even though Mack had previously voted to pass the GAMC extension).
Mack responded to our faith-based group before her flip-flop, indicating that her change of heart to support Pawlenty's veto was because she did not believe the government is in the best position to provide humanitarian assistance which she thinks is best left to charities and churches. Mack also advised that she believed both parties were playing politics with this issue and that she hoped that a better solution might come forth in a couple more days.
Let's hope Rep. Mack was right about a solution being forthcoming. In the meantime, perhaps she might want to review the myriad of relevant Bible passages about compassion. The prophet Ezekiel (16:49), for instance, said that the great sin of the people of Sodom was that they were "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." And Jesus said, "...I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least among you, you did not do for me.'" (Matthew 25:41-45)
But maybe the night is darkest just before the dawn. Almost simultaneous with HCMC's announcement that it would no longer be able to take GAMC patients, the Intergovernmental Relations Committee of the Minneapolis City Council, a committee consisting of the entire city council, voted unanimously on April 29th to support the Minnesota Health Plan. The resolution places the Minnesota (Universal Care) Health Plan on the city council's legislative agenda which identifies the city's legislative priorities at the state capitol. The Duluth City Council passed a similar resolution on April 12th by a vote of 6-3.
Health care issues are far from being resolved. The Minnesota Health Plan may well be put back on the table. At the very least, legislators cutting programs for the state's most vulnerable need to be asked the "What Would Jesus Do?" question again.