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Foster: Considering acts of compassion

Nov. 3, 2017 at 11:37 p.m.

A resident walks past debris Sept. 26 in a neighborhood in Beaumont  that was flooded by Hurricane Harvey.

My old nemesis Kevin McQuaid has found another issue on which to disagree with me (letters, Oct. 26). This time it's the Republican's failed health care bill, which the Congressional Budget Office said would increase the number of people without health insurance by 20 million.

If he thinks the statements in my Oct. 7 column are original to me, he's mistaken. I'm merely a reporter for experts who know the subject matter much better than I — and no doubt better than McQuaid, as well.

If he wants an explanation of the problems facing the Affordable Care Act, McQuaid should read The Associated Press story on page 8A of the Oct. 30 edition of the News-Journal. Because President Donald Trump couldn't get Congress to kill or replace the act, he's intent on destroying it by other means.

"The Trump administration has slashed spending on advertising by 90 percent and drastically reduced budgets for the groups that help consumers choose plans," the AP reported. "It cut the open enrollment period in half, to six weeks."

While Trump is roiling the federal health care exchange, the 12 states operating their own exchanges "are free to chart their own course and make it easier on consumers," the AP reported. For example, the director of Minnesota's exchange said that state may be on track for its best year yet with a separate program that is keeping premiums stable for 2018.

What's important to remember is that health insurance premiums have been rising much faster than the rate of inflation for the past 40-plus years. The Affordable Care Act enacted in 2009 was an attempt to curb these hikes while adding more people to the insured rolls. It wasn't perfect, but it was a landmark law to expand health care to many families on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

McQuaid concluded by questioning what he called my "compassion for the middle class." Let me answer by sharing the remarks I delivered at my church at the request of the Rev. Kevin Otto of First United Methodist Church in Carthage. He asked if I would say a few words about a recent work trip to the city of Orange to help families whose homes were flooded by heavy rains from Hurricane Harvey. This was part of my statement:

"To begin with, I'm not the most qualified person to speak on this subject since I've only made one trip there. Leah Hanks, our associate pastor, Paul and Tracy Kennedy, Shannon Jacks and others are far better qualified to speak.

"However, let me share a few observations from last Sunday. First off, the devastation is widespread. In nearly every neighborhood we drove through, piles of debris lined the edges of streets. Understand, this debris is often the total possessions of many people's lives. Furniture, clothing, bedding, collectibles — you name it, we saw it.

"Second, the work is very hard physically. Demolishing cabinets, tearing out carpet and flooring, bringing down Sheetrock and insulation is difficult enough. But when you add in the hot, humid and smelly conditions, it can be overwhelming. I might add at this point my appreciation for the ladies who carried an equal share of the workload. At the day's end, Josh Woods and I were exhausted and crashed at the rear of the church van while the women seemed a lot more resilient. And Shannon not only spent six hours driving but put in a full share of the work. So I want to say especially to her and Briana Ramirez, you're just awesome.

"Finally, these people will need a lot of help down the road. The friends and families that they could normally call on are in the same predicament. They'll need help from FEMA and state agencies as well as private relief effort such as ours. And they are so appreciative. They don't just sit back and watch us; they pitched in as best they could.

"We hope we left a few families feeling hope for a full recovery. I know I feel better for trying to help and so should all the people in our congregation who contributed to the effort, whether it's time, money or supplies."

Over the past two months, our church has made many trips to Orange helping our fellow Texans recover from this natural disaster. In addition to our sweat and toil, we've donated and delivered tons of supplies for their relief. We've truly heard the cries of the needy.

I'd like to think that expanding health care insurance to our fellow Americans also is an act of compassion. In my own family, my sister-in-law signed up for the ACA and was able to see a doctor and get treatment for a variety of ailments that regular insurance wouldn't cover as pre-existing conditions. Multiply this by millions of times and you'll understand the value of health care for many families not qualified for Medicaid, but unable to afford standard policies.

Even as we debate this, the Children's Health Insurance Program, a successful program for many years, is being dismantled by the Trump administration. McQuaid's question about compassion would be better directed at Republican policy-makers than at me.

John D. Foster, a Carthage resident and former editor of the Panola Watchman, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum. Email jandmfoster@yahoo.com

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