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Pope Francis: “Why the Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone”

May 15, 2017

I recently watched a very unexpected and surprising event. A TED talk given by Pope Francis via video to all the attendees at the recent International TED Conference in Vancouver, B.C. It can be found on YouTube and I highly recommend watching it.

The Pope’s theme was our joint need and shared responsibility for each other because we are all interconnected. In his 17 minute talk, the Pope said among other things:

“First and foremost, I would love it if this meeting would help to remind us that we all need each other. None of us is an island, an autonomous and independent I, and we can only build the future by standing together including everyone… 

Each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others; life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions… 

How wonderful it would be, while we discover far away planets, to rediscover the needs of brothers and sisters orbiting around us…

Let us remember the other is not a statistic or a number, the other has a face, the “you” is always a real person, a person to take care of…

People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everyone is centered around money, and things instead of people...”

Although delivered in Italian, Francis’ talk is subtitled in English and easy to follow. As I did so I started thinking about our current national health care debate, especially the issue of whether pre-existing health problems will be covered at a cost that is affordable by those suffering from such circumstances when insurance companies want to jack up individual premiums as soon as those conditions are revealed.

The people arguing for scrapping Obama Care (aka, Affordable Care Act or ACA) and its protection of those with pre-existing conditions contend it has thrown Health insurers into an actuarial death spiral. They point to company after company pulling out of the health care market due to their losses. And they may have a valid argument. As a result, those who remain healthy face being charged higher and higher premiums to make up for those loses, which is the classic insurance industry model.

So, in the short run many of the young and the healthy are feeling the pinch of higher premiums while also faced with paying off student loans. All this as they work at low wage jobs and struggle to make financial ends meet month after month.

All of these pressures are what leads to what Pope Francis has described as the “inward looking focus on the I, on the me.” It makes us want to ignore or forget about all those faceless other people surrounding us who desperately need insured health care. That is, if they are not to suffer and succumb to unnecessarily early deaths, which often occurs after agonizingly debilitating health crises from cancer on down the endless line of other diseases.

The Pope also pointed out that the only future worth building includes everyone, all humanity not just select pockets of privilege. And today’s young and healthy need to ponder that statement. Because the short term focus on why pay more when you are healthy today ignores each of our own futures. Those futures will inevitably, at some as yet undetermined date, include each of us confronting our own personal health crisis. At that time we’ll need to consider who will pay the costs of taking care of us all if we don’t establish the principal that the young, the healthy and the more affluent must shoulder at least a portion of the burden of caring for the in-firmed and elderly, which some day will inevitably include all of us.

At the same time that burden can’t fall on just the individual, no matter what their status. For the good of the nation our local, state and federal governments must also join in the fight on behalf of our national future. We all must give up the notion of making policy on the basis of individual short term gain at the expense of the long term future.

We already know there are ways to do this. For example, we can provide government subsidies to the insurance providers to cover losses or premium supplements to needy insureds. We can also spread the costs more equitably across all Americans — and if we really want to think outside-of-the-box — we could forgive the already sunk costs of a portion of an individual’s student loan debt in return for purchasing premium health insurance. I’m sure there are any number of other ideas we can come up with if we just put our minds to it.

As the Pope said in his TED talk, “we have so much to do, and we must do it together.”