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AN ENDANDERED HOPE! by Reverend Hurmon Hamilton

Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping— Romans 4:18a (New Living Translation)

Recently, the word” hope” has been batted around on the national stage like a new tennis ball in a Wimbledon Grand Slam Tennis Competition. But in a few weeks, Massachusetts will celebrate a powerful undisputable symbol of “hope” - the second year anniversary of Chapter 58. Two years ago, those who had hoped, prayed and worked for quality universal healthcare, even when there seem to be no reason to hope, rejoiced over our new healthcare law. Two years later, this new, experimental law is itself a “hope” – an “endangered hope” - yet to be fully realized in an environment of escalating medical cost, deteriorating economic realities, and an expanding index of human greed.

Last week, this “endangered hope” was almost mortally wounded when the Connector considered loading onto the backs of the poor, sick and most vulnerable indefensible hikes in premiums, co-pays and out-of-pocket maximums, while ignoring insurers, employers and hospitals as possible solutions to the growing financial challenge of funding this reform. Dangerous!

Thankfully, the Connector delayed its vote until later this month.

Rick Lord, in his WBUR Blog stated that these increases are reasonable and that “Until we unite to tackle cost drivers head on… this difficult choice is one we must face regularly.”

There is no argument that we must all unite to tackle cost drivers. The Senate President’s release of her cost containment package this week is an important and welcome beginning to this critical dialogue. But Mr. Lord is wrong in asserting that the proposed cost-sharing increases are reasonable. To the contrary, they are dangerous! To my parishioner, Keith Rudolph, and thousands like him, the proposed changes are punitive and potentially harmful.

Keith Rudolph lives with this wife and 2 children in Worcester. He drives a truck for a local company. His family of four is on a fixed income, he is the sole bread winner as his wife is disabled and stays home to care for their 12 year old and 4 year old who has autism.

The financial strains on this family include the high cost of housing, heat and gas. Keith also pays $919 dollars a month in child support for his older children. He works 50-55 hours a week, depending on whether he can get extra shifts at work, and he sometimes drives a tour bus on Saturdays to earn extra money.

Keith recently enrolled in Commonwealth Care and pays $105/month in premiums. Under the current proposal his premiums would jump to $120/month. Keith is currently being monitored by a doctor for his blood sugar level and sleep apnea which require frequent visits to the doctor. Co-pays for these visits are expected to double. Depending on the outcome of his tests, co-pays for prescriptions may also double. In total, the Rudolph family is looking at increased costs of $15-$50 dollars each month – a significant increase in an incredibly tight family budget. Multiply this real story, by the thousands of others who share similar circumstances, and one can easily imagine how the hope of lasting health reform in our Commonwealth is truly “endangered”. Be clear, such action will threaten the very ones that the reform was birthed to protect.

On the other hand, we agree with the conclusion of Celia Wcislo’s, a Connector Board member, blog:

“The proposed course of dramatic cost-shifting to consumers, the state, and taxpayers is neither a short-term nor a long-term solution for funding healthcare reform. Why must working families and taxpayers shoulder the burden alone? Clearly, new revenue sources from hospitals, insurers, and from businesses who fail to provide affordable coverage to their employees, must be considered. “

Finally, we must remember that for families like the Rudolph’s health care is no longer an optional line-item in their family budget. They are now mandated to buy health insurance. If 14% increases in the affordability schedule are going to become an annual norm, the Massachusetts individual mandate experiment will quickly fail as the notion of affordability becomes a cruel joke.

GBIO, the Rudolphs, and thousands of others pray, work and “hope”………for a different conclusion!

Rev. Hurmon E. Hamilton, Jr
Senior Pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church USA
Chairman and CEO of Roxbury Presbyterian Church Social Impact Center, Inc.
President of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

This program aired on March 6, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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