You can’t help but be moved by Jimmy Kimmel’s recent revelation that his son was born with congenital heart issues and required surgery within 24 hours of birth to address the problem. Praise God for attentive nurses, talented doctors and the other factors that all came into play to save this child’s life and good on Kimmel for using his very public platform to not only recount the story but also point out that access to healthcare is so vital. That message seems particularly important as lawmakers in Washington, D.C. seem bent on finding new and increasingly cruel ways to limit that kind of access to anyone who can’t afford it or who has the bad fortune of just getting sick.
Kimmel was right to use his venue to make this case, though it can’t be forgotten that there are countless parents across the country who are struggling through similar circumstances. They have a child who requires serious ongoing care and, unlike him, might not have employers who are so supportive of needing to take a week – or more – off work to deal with it. These parents not only may not be able to find the kind of specialists that can address the particular problem but, if they do, that care may be beyond their financial or travel means. And if they, like so many, are working part-time jobs that don’t offer benefits and where they are easily replaced by someone who’s “more reliable” then taking the time to care for their child may just not be an option. There’s rent to pay and food to buy and so they need to work.
Kimmel nails the crux of the issue when he says that no parent should have to face a situation where they can’t afford to save the life of their child. What kind of society are we building when we attach a dollar figure to the life of an infant – or child of any age – and say if the pa rents aren’t able to meet that threshold then their child isn’t with saving. That’s inhuman, not to mention inhumane.
That’s the situation too many people are in, though, and the current proposal working its way through the House of Representatives would go even further in that direction. Under it healthcare would inaccessible to parents of all stripes as well as large swaths of the population in general. “We can’t afford it” would be a conversation that once again massive amounts of people would have. That leads to people who can’t get better and so can’t get back to work and so can’t support their families and so rely on assistance programs of the very kind that the GOP currently in the majority of our federal government want to similarly strip.
It’s all designed to create a permanent underclass. If you get sick it must be, according to those in charge, because you prioritized that new iPhone or bought a 12-pack of Coke when you should have been saving for cancer treatments. Never mind how that iPhone might be the only way you can access the internet and look for jobs or connect with friends and family. Or how that pack of Coke might be the one treat you’ve been able to give your kids after weeks of going without anything but the bare essentials.
Here’s another scenario to consider, though: Imagine if expectant parents were told their child had a congenital heart defect or other issue that was discovered before he or she was even born. The doctor gives them the choice to abort the pregnancy now or let the baby be born, but with the knowledge it will need a lifetime of medical care. The beliefs and values of the parents may want the baby to be born and they will deal with things as they come up. But with finances a factor in the decision as well the calculous changes to one that is more pragmatic to use a cold, callous word. “My job won’t allow for the kind of time to take this child to all the appointments it will need,” they might say to themselves.
It comes down to the fact that in a progressive, enlightened society these are the kind of conversations that never need to happen. We should be beyond that. There are those, though, that want to use healthcare and more as tools to deny people any chance at advancement. You can’t move up the social ladder, no matter how motivated you are, if you can’t get medicine to keep a transplanted organ functional. You can’t unlock your full potential without access to a quality education. You can’t be who you really are if you’re drinking water from a source polluted by a company who recently had regulations rolled back and breathing air that’s filthy from nearby factories that have no emissions standards. Oh, and all those things will add to the likelihood future children are born with health problems that can be denied by insurance companies as “preexisting conditions.”
Thank God Kimmel’s child is doing well and we all pray that continues, just as we pray for the continued health of all children who need help and daily or otherwise regular treatment. But just like thoughts and prayers won’t stop a bullet fired from the gun of a disgruntled husband who gets into a school, they alone won’t heal a child. Only access to the God-given talents of healthcare providers can do that. It’s exactly that kind of access we need to consider a basic human right, both in this country and elsewhere.