faith in action

Health insurance and Medicaid important for expectant mothers

As the U.S. Senate considers a bill that will dramatically change the health care system in the United States, the Rev. Shelby Slowey speaks out against its affects on maternal health.

Person holding sign which reads, "people of faith for health care."

I gave birth to my first child last year. In the same year, the maternal mortality rate in Tennessee was 26 deaths per 100,000 births.

My husband told me, “That doesn’t seem too high.” But when you consider that Tennessee has one of the highest rates in the nation, a country whose maternal mortality rate is higher than any other developed nation, it suddenly seems absurd.

I didn’t know when I got pregnant or went into labor how dangerous it still is just to have a baby in the United States. I assumed — as we all do — that pregnancy related deaths were rare. If you’ve been reading the news lately, especially here in Nashville, you might have noticed maternal deaths are not as rare as we thought. I am hoping to have more children, but when I consider the fact I am 3-6 times more likely to die here than I would be in comparable western countries, I can’t help but pause and seriously consider the risks to being a child-bearing woman in the US.

With my employer-provided insurance, I had the advantage of being able to receive pre-natal and post-partum care without having to choose between that or putting food on the table or buying clothes for my rapidly growing daughter. Insurance allowed me to reach out to my doctor anytime I had a concern or question. I didn’t have to wait in fear for my life or my child’s life because I couldn’t afford to see the doctor. I went and had peace of mind.

However, my pregnancy and delivery costs totaled nearly $10,000. That price tag was for a normal, healthy pregnancy. Even with insurance, I paid hundreds in out of pocket medical expenses after my daughter’s birth.

How sad it is for so many other mothers that such a joyful celebration of life can so be the cause of financial collapse. That is why I’m speaking out against the bill currently being considered by the U.S. Senate.

For thousands of child-bearing women in Tennessee alone to lose their coverage in this legislation is unconscionable. These are not numbers to be sacrificed on the altar of a balanced budget. These are children of God who cannot afford their health care costs without insurance.

As a United Methodist pastor and Nashville faith leader, I have a duty to my congregation, my community and my city to condemn any action that would cause women just like me to be overrun by medical debt when they are already risking their very lives just to birth a child.

When I hear people argue that those who want insurance should find jobs that provide it, I think of my many hardworking family members that do not have employer-provided insurance plans. My husband, father, father-in-law, brother, and sister all rely on spouses or the marketplace for their health insurance. They are all hardworking individuals in fields they love and to which they feel called.

I also think about the many people I see walking through my church needing assistance with necessities like gas and groceries. They are beloved children of God with diabetes, kidney failure, chronic back pain, and other illnesses who rely on Medicaid to be able to get the help they need. These are not lazy people. They often work two or three jobs, just to pay rent and keep the lights on.

Regardless of one’s employment or economic status, the United Methodist Social Principles states that health care is a basic human right. It is not a privilege for those who can afford it, no matter if they’re in the career of their dreams, or in a job just to make the rent payment this month, or sacrificing a job altogether because they can’t afford childcare. It is a responsibility for all of us to ensure that our neighbors, the ones we have been charged by our Lord Jesus Christ to love as ourselves, have access to adequate and affordable health care. Period. No qualifiers.

Ezekiel 34 deals harshly with those leaders who do not care for their poor. “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.”

Brothers and sisters, let us not be harsh rulers, but let us shepherd our flock with great care and concern for their health and wellness. May it be so, Lord. May it be so.

The Rev. Shelby Slowey is pastor of evangelism and hospitality at Brentwood United Methodist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. Shelby grew up in Texas, where her family still resides. She received her B.A. in English from Lambuth University, and has her M.Div from Vanderbilt Divinity School. Shelby discerned her passion for caring ministry through her experience practicing chaplaincy at Monroe Carrel Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Alive Hospice, and St. Thomas West Hospital. Shelby is married to Stephan and they have one daughter. They enjoy camping, game nights, and entertaining at their home.