Sr. Simone Campbell, the original “Nun on the Bus” and the leader of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice since 2004, is a Presidentially-certified healthcare hero.
In early 2010, as the historic vote on the Affordable Care Act was looming, the legislation was in jeopardy. Many Catholic lawmakers supported the ACA but were wary of defying the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who opposed the bill on anti-abortion grounds.
Then, Campbell and NETWORK released a letter to Congress from organizations and communities representing tens of thousands of Catholic Sisters. They turned the “right to life” argument on its head: “For us, this health care reform is a faith mandate for life and dignity of all of our people,” they wrote. “We urge you to vote “yes” for life by voting yes for health care reform.”
The so-called “Nuns’ Letter” provided the cover some Catholic lawmakers needed, tipping the scales toward passage. President Obama himself thanked Campbell and invited her to the signing of the law that has led to millions of Americans getting access to healthcare.
We are thrilled that Sr. Simone Campbell is the latest faith-motivated healthcare advocate to join us for a Faith in Healthcare Five-Minute Interview:
1. What do you consider the most important healthcare work that you and NETWORK do?
We advocate on Capitol Hill and around the country for the needs of folks who are too often left out of care. After having the honor of writing the “Nun’s Letter,” I have to confess that I thought, “If I never do another good thing in my life, my life has had meaning.” (Editor’s note: The dramatic ACA events are chronicled in Campbell’s book, A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community )
I thought we had won and could move on. But it turns out we need to defend the ACA and improve the ACA. So the work continues
- What motivates you to do advocacy for access to healthcare?
Organizationally, NETWORK has been working on healthcare since 1972. In fact, our very first publication was on healthcare reform. The motivation behind our work is simple: healthcare is a human right. If people don’t have access to quality, affordable healthcare, their very dignity is being denied. The idea that healthcare should only be available to those who can pay for it is the economic heresy of our time. People matter more than profit. We work to make sure people can live in the dignity that God create them in.
This is not a cerebral thing. It is a visceral thing, in part because of it being a mandate rooted in the Gospel, and in part because of the experience of meeting so many people around the country. I often share the story of Margaret, who took her picture with me on one of the bus trips through Cincinnati. Later, her sister shared with me that photo, and informed me that they showed it at Margaret’s memorial service. I was shocked. Margaret had died because she lost her job and did not have access to healthcare because the ACA had not been fully implemented yet. Margaret has become part of my fuel to work to make sure healthcare is available to everyone.
- What are the biggest challenges you face?
A core challenge we face is the idea of profit-driven healthcare: we see it especially with the lobbying fights with pharma and insurance companies. It’s all about taking as much profit as they can get. Healthcare, the very thing that was always a ministry of service, is now seen as a source for profit. That is an ideological problem that is hugely challenging to face. Another piece of the economic problem is that so many political campaigns are funded by these very institutions, and that makes politicians less likely to speak up against them.
Also, we are facing a crisis in our delivery systems in the U.S. We have been doing a series of rural roundtables across the country, and learning that getting healthcare into rural communities and low-income communities is a big challenge. The limited network of community health centers is not enough to serve the people.
- What do you think the U.S. healthcare system should look like?
We have a long-time saying we keep repeating: “Quality Affordable Accessible Equitable Healthcare for All.” We hear a lot about affordability, but ensuring quality of care across the country is essential, too. In one of our rural roundtables in Texas, people were actually glad the local hospital had closed, because the care provided there was so poor. Texas has not expanded Medicaid coverage under the ACA, so hospitals have a lot of unreimbursed care and that causes them to struggle.
As for the idea of equitable healthcare, it is shocking that there is such a discrepancy in outcomes between persons of color and white folks. Finally, of course, we need to have healthcare for all, for so many reasons. This is a public health issue as well as a question of human rights.
- What role do you see people of faith and faith communities playing in making the needed changes?
People of faith are going to make all the difference because we do not come to the issue from a profit motive, seduced by mammon to extract everything we can for ourselves out of the healthcare system. My role as a Christian is to do what Jesus did, which is to walk towards those who were blind or lepers or outcasts, and to bring healing. In our society, to bring healing means to break through the economic analysis of getting everything you can and instead return healthcare to be a ministry of caring.
We people of faith need to speak up, not just in legislative settings but with our neighbors. We need to do what I call grocery store missionary work, talking to people about healthcare being a right that we can assure access to. That’s what Jesus did: he walked towards trouble, embraced it, and spoke the truth of love: That truth is, if we love each other deeply enough, we can change this.
This interview has been condensed.
Faith and Healthcare Notes
Poll: Evangelical U.S. Christians More Concerned About Healthcare and Economy than Religious Liberty and Abortion. Americans with evangelical beliefs are more likely to be deeply concerned about healthcare and economic issues than they are about issues typically associated with evangelical political such as religious liberty and abortion, according to a new survey published by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Will U.K. Lead the Way for Public Pharma? The Labour Party in the U.K. has proposed a “Medicines for the Many: Public Health Before Private Profit” package that includes some of the ideas advanced by the Democracy Collaborative report recently profiled in Faith in Healthcare, include public ownership of drug development and manufacturing capabilities, requiring affordability on drugs developed with government funding, and overriding drug patents through compulsory licensing, allowing other companies to produce the medicine at lower prices
Why It’s a Good Idea: See this Reuters report on the price of medicines for multiple sclerosis quadrupling in just a decade’s time. Medicare spending on MS drugs grew 10-fold, from an average of $7,794 to $79,411 a year.