Laura buried her head in a blood-soaked towel as she ran from her home near Rev. Bill Campbell’s church. When he tried to offer aid to the stricken women, he found himself in her home confronting her husband in one of his drunken rages.
Fortunately, the churchman recalled, the husband, screaming abuse and curses, lost his balance, toppled down the stairs and was unable to get up. Campbell hustled Laura and her terrified son, age 5, out of their den of torment and into a domestic abuse shelter.
While Laura and her son were rescued from immediate danger, she was trapped between impossible choices. She could leave her husband and his frequent drunken furies, but the health insurance that covered her asthmatic son and her own medical problems came through his employer.
“These are our stories. We need to claim them” and take moral responsibility, Campbell, who recently retired after 30 years of leading the United Methodist campus ministry at MTSU, told The Rotary Club of McMinnville on Thursday.
He remembered an MTSU student named Jeremy who had to drop out of school a whole semester because he could not afford basic medical care for his illness. A veteran, he had group health insurance with his employer, the General Electric plant in Murfreesboro, until it closed in 2006. Unable to pay for his healthcare, he lost his battle with chronic illness, the Rotary speaker said.
“There are so many who die needlessly because they fall in the gap,” Campbell declared. “The gap” he referred to describes Tennessee residents who don’t meet the narrow qualifications for Medicaid (TennCare) coverage and the income requirements for private health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The number of people who fall into that category range from 280,000 to as many as 500,000, including several thousand veterans.
“As Christians, as Jews, as Muslims or Buddhists it’s time to take care” of the uninsured “and save lives,” Campbell said.
The firefighter who runs into a burning house and rescues a small child is hailed as a hero, Campbell observed. But everyone who works to provide health care for those who are facing a protracted death from chronic disease is an unheralded but nonetheless real hero. “We need to recognize people are dying slowly but surely,” he insisted.
It’s “not just physical death but the death of dreams and hopes,” Campbell said, pointing to the family financial devastation that often accompanies serious illness or injury. Access to basic health care “is not about profits, but about people.”
In the question-and-answer period following Campbell’s formal remarks, a Rotarian asked him how much it would cost Tennessee to extend Medicare protection to the 501,000 who are now uninsured. “Nothing,” the speaker replied. “You’ve already paid for it with your federal tax dollars.”
A less obvious cost to Tennessee families, he commented, is the cost transfer inside the health care industry. The burden of providing services to the uninsured — mainly through emergency room facilities — is moved over to patients who have insurance or who can pay from their own resources. These transferred costs show up in higher premiums for employers and their employees.
Campbell, who served as pastor at United Methodist congregations in Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee, discusses these and related issues in this week’s “Focus” program on public radio WCPI 91.3. The half-hour talk show will air Tuesday at 5 p.m.; Wednesday at 5:05 a.m.; Thursday at 1 p.m.; and Friday at 1:05 a.m.