A letter from Dr. Roger Starner Jones to the President has been circulating on Facebook. The first time it showed up on my page -- posted by an old high school buddy -- she wrote, "I know everyone will agree ..."
I read Dr. Roger Starner Jones' letter and thought, "No, I don't agree. Not by a long shot." But I bit my tongue and blew it off, because I had a million more important things to do.
When the letter appeared again, posted by another Facebook friend, this time with peoples' fired-up comments, I sat down, pen in hand (more or less) and scripted this response. (Dr. Roger Starnes Jones' letter is below.)
Dear Facebook friends, new and old alike--
Some years back, Alan (some of my high school buddies may remember him) and I rented our very first place together -- the upstairs of a split-level house in Melville, Long Island. We paid $150 per month rent for this 'palace.' (Ahhh, those were the days ... )
One day, the landlord and I both pulled into the driveway at the same time. She'd just returned from a major shopping expedition, bundles overflowing, so I helped carry the packages into her kitchen.
While I don't remember the specifics of the conversation, I do recall that she revealed that she was on welfare and that she'd used her welfare check to buy electric rollers at the supermarket.
I was surprised to learn that she was on welfare, and aghast at the idea that she cashed her welfare check to buy electric rollers instead of food for her little boy and herself.
However, as time went by and certain facts about her life were revealed, I began to understand. Her husband had left her, although he showed up every now and again to yell and scream about one thing or another, and her little boy was blind.
Buying electric curlers got her through; it gave her something to be excited about. Those curlers, in that moment, gave her a boost, a lift. Was it 'right?' Should our tax dollars pay for someone's electric curlers? Were the curlers a necessity?
Maybe not, but knowing and watching this woman and how she negotiated her world gave me a glimmer of insight as to what it's like to live with no hope; with limited resources and a disabled child.
Are you familiar with the iceberg metaphor? An iceberg is one of those great masses of ice where one-ninth of it is above the water where you can see it, and its remaining eight ninths are hidden underwater.
It seems to me that Dr. Roger Starner Jones is only looking at the tip of the iceberg. There's more to this story than meets the eye.
You may say that electric curlers and gold teeth are apples and oranges. But regardless of these facts, this doctor is making a spot judgment -- about both the woman and our health care system -- based on anecdotal evidence. Would he diagnose a disease based on so few facts? I doubt it.
And this isn't a black-and-white conversation (no pun intended). He isn't completely wrong. There are people in our society that are willful drains on our economy, who choose not to work and misspend their welfare checks. And those folks represent serious cultural deficiencies -- and they themselves are to blame, not society. His patient may herself represent a one-woman "crisis of culture" -- and no doubt there are others like her of all races, religions, manners of dress and musical tastes. But I think it's pretty clear that the vast majority of Americans, including the President and Members of Congress, reject this woman's values.
But the bottom line is that health care is not a cultural issue; it is a policy issue. To talk about it intelligently one needs to delve deep into economics, public health and more. The vast majority of us don't want to have that conversation because it either puts us to sleep or makes our heads hurt. Turning it into a cultural issue is attractive because it feels good to be angry, and satisfying to form a strong position.
Health care is a dry, boring and wonky topic and trying to make it into something that it isn't doesn't do any good. It only serves to get people angry at each other and brings us to a place where there is no solution.
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:12)."
"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:8-9)."
Dr. Roger Starner Jones' letter to the President felt judgmental and angry. No love there.
And now the letter that is circulating on Facebook:
Dear Mr. President:
During my shift in the Emergency Room last night, I had the pleasure of evaluating a patient whose smile revealed an expensive shiny gold tooth, whose body was adorned with a wide assortment of elaborate and costly tattoos, who wore a very expensive brand of tennis shoes and who chatted on a new cellular telephone equipped with a popular R&B ringtone.
While glancing over her patient chart, I happened to notice that her payer status was listed as "Medicaid"! During my examination of her, the patient informed me that she smokes more than one pack of cigarettes every day, eats only at fast-food take-outs, and somehow still has money to buy pretzels and beer. And, you and our Congress expect me to pay for this woman's health care? I contend that our nation's "health care crisis" is not the result of a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses. Rather, it is the result of a "crisis of culture" a culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on luxuries and vices while refusing to take care of one's self or, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance. It is a culture based in the irresponsible credo that "I can do whatever I want to because someone else will always take care of me". Once you fix this "culture crisis" that rewards irresponsibility and dependency, you'll be amazed at how quickly our nation's health care difficulties will disappear.
Roger Starner Jones, MD