Union Ridge Church

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

by Reverend Dan on December 15, 2020

"Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent."

                                                                                                              Psalm 79:1


I read recently where Dr. Philip Lee died.


That name probably doesn’t mean much to those outside the medical field, but it should. He was one of the top health advisors in Lyndon Johnson’s presidential administration (Department of Health, Education and Welfare), and it was Dr. Lee who engineered the introduction of Medicare to the United States.


In the early 1960’s, as a member of the American Medical Association and the Republican party, he defied both organizations by testifying before congress on a plan that would have helped pay for hospital and nursing home care through Social Security for patients over the age of 65. For that, he was branded a socialist and a Communist.


Just a few years later, however, in 1964, President Johnson bulldozed his landmark Civil Rights Bill through Congress and Dr. Lee saw an opening. He met with Johnson, and the following year Medicare was introduced as a way to help older Americans with medical costs. (He later served the Clinton Administration in the renamed Department of Health and Human Services and was one of the first to endorse Obama’s Affordable Care Act.)


Nice, you say, but what is the correlation between Civil Rights and Medicare? In this case it’s a close-knit relationship. To Dr. Lee, Medicare wasn’t just a law which expanded medical coverage; it was a way to address racial and economic justice. Dr. Lee used Medicare funding to desegregate hospitals and that changed the economic lives and health of millions of people. The new legislation meant 7,000 hospitals nationwide were subjected to rules barring discrimination against patients on the basis of race, creed, or national origin. There was to be equal treatment for all in hospitals, from medical and nursing care to bed assignments to cafeteria and restroom privileges. And it barred discrimination in hiring, training, and promotions as well. But how do you enforce something like this? Easy, if you didn’t comply, you didn’t get federal funding. Political extortion? Righting an old wrong? Based on the eye of the beholder, I guess.


But it was effective. Before the law took effect in 1966, less than half of the hospitals in the United States met the desegregation standard, with the number in the south being significantly lower (less than 25%). By February of 1967, less than a year after the law took effect, 95% of all hospitals were compliant.


Sometimes it takes a little arm-twisting to bring morality into the light of day. The thought processes of the past are a hard paradigm to break, and so you “gotta do what you gotta do”. Dr. Lee had no personal motive in his cause. Just the basic sense that as members of one country and one race (the human race), we should all share equally in the most basic of needs: medical care.


Thanks be to God for heroes who are willing to take a stand when those they stand for can’t.


"Father, Give us all the courage to be Your heart and Your voice in the world.  In Jesus' name, AMEN."



Christmas Bonus:

The original title for “Silver Bells” was “Tinkle Bells”. The title was quickly changed when the wife of one of the songwriters point out that “tinkle” had another meaning.