Bless You Too, Bro, But You Gotta Have Insurance

Christ In The Desert

The other day I got a fund-raising letter from a monastery that can’t afford health insurance for its monks.

I got to thinking. Once the medical system depended upon religious orders, not the other way around. Many hospitals still have religious names long after they have been secularized. St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, the nearest full-service medical center to the northern New Mexico monastery, used to belong to the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity. The religious order turned St. Vincent over to a non-profit community board in 1968, and it began to be run like a business.

But the commercialization of health care created problems. The nurse shortage, for example, is blamed on low salaries due to the managed care movement. New Mexico also has a doctor shortage. Health insurance premiums keep rising 15 per cent a year. The Medicaid program for the poor goes up 10 per cent a year. And 25 per cent of the people in the state have no medical coverage — no insurance, no government eligibility. It’s one of the highest uncovered rates in the nation.

The numbers reflect a medical system that long ago abandoned the mission and service associated with religious orders.

Thank goodness there are liberal areas of New Mexico that care for people regardless of the system. Take the case of the Benedictine monastary tucked in a wilderness canyon in Rio Arriba County. The monks take a vow of poverty and devotion to God and are called to prayer five or six times a day and eat one meal a day.

Brother Philip Lawrence, abbot of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, above Abiquiu, NM, sent out a fund-raising plea last week. “At the end of last year our community dropped all health insurance because we could no longer afford it. Many of our friends wrote to us expressing concerns about what would happen. . . .The very week after we dropped insurance, it was necessary to put one of the brothers in the hospital, and the bills for those four days came to almost $15,000.”

Now, the monks are fortunate to live in a county with a medical indigency fund. They certainly qualify as poor people, and so Rio Arriba County eventually paid all but $2,000 of the hospital bill. And Brother Philip says some of the brothers who need expensive medicines have found programs that supply them free. So with a little help from their friends, the monks are hoping to get by without medical insurance.

I’ll send a check, thinking there’s got to be a better way than begging for donations or relying on politically influenced indigency funds. I’ll send a check, recalling all those hospitals named for saints.