I recently moved to the greater Houston area. Among the moving and settling in tasks of the last week was finding a new primary care doctor. In addition to being an asthmatic, I have a couple of other ongoing medical issues that need monitoring so waiting to find a doctor until something comes up health wise was not an option. Compounding my search was that I was scheduled to become one the 48.6 million Americans without health insurance due to the ending of my current interim ministry. Not only did I need a new doctor in my new hometown, I needed health care coverage.
Meet my new doctor and my new health care service (technically, it’s not insurance):
Yesterday I became a member of the Patient Physician Health Care Cooperative of Houston. I joined as a Plan 4 member with optional Group Hospital Indemnity Insurance. The basic plan costs me $75 a month and the hospital insurance costs $261 a month. The $75 I pay each month for the plan is divided among my primary care doctor, the diagnostic imaging service and the laboratory service. Each of these basic services gets a payment from me monthly. When I need to go to the doctor or have lab work or imaging there is no (that’s zero, $0) copay. It’s slightly different from insurance where money is paid to the insurance company and the insurance company pays out providers. I am paying my doctor directly each month through PPC.
I talked a great deal with the administrator at PPC yesterday while doing my paperwork. He’s a native Canadian and provided the most amiable customer service I have ever experienced. We talked health care and hockey (he’s a native Canadian – who better to take health care lessons from?) and the health care needs of the local community. The conversation made me think of all the work I’ve done in my ministry over the last few years trying to help people find health care resources.
My ministry has taken me to congregations and to very poor urban neighborhoods. No matter where I found myself serving, be it in a plush suburb or the inner city, health care needs were always present and always surfaced. The person sitting in my office at the church or at the faith based non-profit needed a prescription, an operation, or just a doctor to help find out what was causing a persistent condition. Even more common were people needing dental work or mental health care. I learned that basic, very basic medical care is available if you can get people to it. I also learned that basic dental care and mental health care are very hard to find for people living in poverty. Even people with jobs and health insurance frequently did not have dental insurance or adequate mental health care benefits.
The Patient Physician Cooperative may just a be a model that faith communities can champion. An alternative to for profit insurance companies with a mission to provide care to the local community. Perhaps our faith communities can become leading voices for health care cooperatives and other community services providing needed basic care to the left out, left behind, ignored and forgotten.
I would love to hear from dentists, counselors, therapists, and social workers what type of fee structure would be needed by members of mental health care cooperative in order to adequately support their work and their ability to offer care to the uninsured and those living in poverty.
When I think of the early Christian communities, the People of the Way, I often remember one thing that set them apart from their society and their culture was their commitment to tend to the sick and dying. Today, churches run hospitals and clinics and yet so many of our brothers and sisters are left without adequate care or without any care at all. The church run hospitals and services have become in many cases (although not all) just another part of our health care system that isn’t working for almost 50 million people. What would it be like if we made it part of who we are as people of faith to get involved in making sure our local communities had adequate structures in place to care for more of those currently not able to access comprehensive basic health care?
Standing on the Side of Love is also standing on the side of mental health care and the side of dental care and the side of health care for all. There are people out there doing things such as starting health care cooperatives. Liberal religious voices could be a very powerful chorus for such creative approaches. Will you raise yours?