Why It Makes Jesus Cry When UnitedHealthcare Screws People

By Rose Berger and Heidi Thompson

This week UnitedHealthcare told a young stroke victim that her health insurance with them does not include the rehabilitation necessary for her to walk, eat, or speak again.

This “hip, young, vibrant and beautiful woman,” as her sister described her to us, entered the hospital in December. After more than a month in recovery from a highly unusual massive cerebral stroke, her sister said that UnitedHealthcare has now “pulled the plug on her rehab and is sending her home with me.”

The victim’s sister, who prefers to remain anonymous, does not live in the same state; nor is she equipped to provide the care needed. “My sister cannot walk, stand, wash, toilet herself, count or read, and speaks only garbled phrases.” The hospital insists that it will discharge her, or start to bill her sister daily, even though she has told them repeatedly that her “only current option is to take her to a handicapped-accessible motel room.”

When insurance representatives were questioned on the wisdom – or basic human decency – of sending her incapacitated sister home with her to a motel, she was told “this is a ‘social problem’ not a ‘medical problem’ and thus, the insurer has no duty to continue rehab.”

Whoa, United Healthcare! You think that’s a “social problem”?

Denial of coverage for this young American woman who worked for and earned her health coverage is not a social problem.  It’s a “criminal problem.” It’s called stealing from the sick to feed the greed of the rich. Sadly, this is not an isolated case. In 2009, UnitedHealthcare in New York was investigated and found seriously wanting. Rather than go to court, UHC coughed up$350 million to settle the class-action suit. In 2007, UHC agreed to pay the largest settlement in the Nebraska Dept. of Insurance’s history when UHC was found to have violated 18 Nebraska laws more than 800 times in a one-year period. My conclusion is that UHC has a “criminal problem.” But we’ll let the lawyers and courts sort that one out.

However, we can tell you what definitely is a social problem: the fact that across America today there are thousands of people who have insurance, yet are denied care.

Another social problem is that our elected officials appear impotent in the face of health insurance companies’ power and swagger. While we are glad for the tiny baby steps forward with the health care reform legislation that we Americans achieved last year, this sad story shows how far we have yet to go.

For-profit health insurance companies, no matter what reforms or regulations we put in place, are not the answer. By their very definition, health insurance companies profit by denying sick people medical care.

That’s the way insurance works. You pay the insurer, betting that at some point you will get sick and you will need care. The insurer takes your money but doesn’t take care of you when you do get sick, at least if the insurer is UnitedHealthcare. As health care advocate Donna Smith said in a recent column, “Americans know that health insurance is not health care.” In this case, UnitedHealthcare has once again made the point.

“Writing a check to Blue Cross or Humana or Aetna or Cigna or UnitedHealthcare,” says Smith, “is not any guarantee at all of anything except that we’ve sent money to an insurance company. That’s it. Armies of administrative people make sure they guard the gates to the actual delivery of health care. The generals who make sure those administrative soldiers hold the line are far behind the scenes in white coats and locked offices to make sure no insurgent patients without payment in place actually get near them. In the health care delivery world, the disconnect between those who would give us care and those of us who need it is systemic and growing worse.”

But back to our original point. Why does this make Jesus cry? Unquestionably one of Jesus’ hallmark characteristics was his concern for and ministry with the sick. From healing the lepers and the woman with an issue of blood to healing Jairus’ daughter and the Roman soldier, Jesus publically called to account the levitical “health care” system of his time.

The religious purity laws of the day — what we might call “pre-existing conditions” — created “a system of social boundaries,” writes biblical scholar Richard Ascough, which served “to remove socioeconomically burdensome populations, and especially the chronically ill, from society.” What the system said was just not possible to heal, Jesus showed was very possible with few resources and a little compassion. It wasn’t that the system didn’t have the ability or finances to heal the sick; it was that the system didn’t care.

“I am enraged, bewildered, and powerless to take on the U.S. health ‘care’ system,” this young woman’s sister told us. She has left phone messages with her UHC “inpatient Care Manager” faxed letters requesting a written explanation for why coverage has been denied. To date, she has not heard back. “I want people to know what it means in basic human terms to watch a loved one sent home when medical help might give her back some minimum quality of life.”

Somewhere tonight we’re sure a UnitedHealthcare insurance representative is praying for forgiveness for what he or she has done to this young woman who is sick and needs support. We’re equally sure that Jesus will offer that forgiveness — but not without shedding a tear.

6 thoughts on “Why It Makes Jesus Cry When UnitedHealthcare Screws People”

  1. Rose,

    As I look at these deplorable actions, perpetuated upon people by our terribly flawed, and often heartless health insurance system, masquerading as a healthcare system, I am taken back by the comments that have appeared in the blog sphere. I am particularly interested in some of the positions and statement made by people who appear to speak from or claim the mantle of a ‘Christian’ perspective.

    As a follower of Jesus, I believe He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I do not recognize or believe there exists a “corporate carve-out or exemption,” He is Lord over all. I believe the “red letter” words of Matthew 25:44-45 “’Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” apply to for-profit and not for-profit corporations, individuals, and any all types of entities we can create. Man lacks the standing to loophole Christ’s sole pronouncement of judgment. Especially since His own words that tell us that when UHC and Advocate Christ Hospital failed to take care of the “vibrant young lady” Rose described and Quelino, they were actually “dumping” the incarnated Christ Himself. We do not get absolution from sin, by putting sin within the corporate veil, and then point and say “I did not sin. It was the corporations that sinned, after all that’s what corporations are for.”

    We also have got to get over the idea that ‘church’ is limited in form to organizational structures, or that a ‘church’ is a building. The church is where two or three are gathered, called to revolutionize the world, with a message that is tweetable…. ‘Love God – Love Neighbor’.

    The U.S. Constitutions’ admonition that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …” was not authored to mean that if a religion says something is good and proper and should be done, that the government can not do it or should not do it. The idea that the “church” should be responsible for taking care of those in need, as an excuse for the government not doing so misses both the preamble of the Constitution which says “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America” and forgets that “Goats and Sheep” is also about the Judgment of Nations.

    Let us remember Isaiah’s words that we sing every Christmas season, “The government shall be upon His shoulders.” It’s not under His feet, it is lifted up upon His shoulders so it might soar and do things for the good of all.

    I close with the words of the wonderful and convicting hymn, I Am My Brothers Keeper.

    “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the muttered cry was drowned / by Abel’s life-blood shouting in silence from the ground. For no man is an island, divided from the main; the bell which tolled for Abel tolled equally for Cain.

    The ruler called for water, and thought his hands were clean, / Christ counted less than order, the man than the machine.The crowd cried, “Crucify him!” their malice wouldn’t budge,/ so Pilate called for water, and history’s his judge.

    As long as people hungry, as long as people thirst, and ignorance and illness and warfare do their worst, as long as there’s injustice in any of God’s lands, I am my brother’s keeper; I dare not wash my hands.

  2. If you said in what State this denial of treatment took place, I missed it. But there are some things that need doing to pressure UHC, who are notorious for this sort of thing and for slow payment to practitioners. First, get in touch with the appropriate office of the State’s Insurance Dept. to file a complaint; if they fail to act immediatey against UHC, get everyone you know to complain to them. Secondly, leaflet in front of the victim’s former employer to let her former co-workers know what’s happening and to pressure the employer to leave UHC for a better insurer. UHC often “Low-balls” insurance choice plans with poor coverage; they also mis-employ a small army of overpaid supposed health professionals to make such wrong decisions, hoping to profit from denial, even when it is illegal for them to do so because of State insurance regulations, laws, and even the very contract employers sign with them and the insureds let them get away with it. Clearly, a contract which allows the behaviour described here ought to be illegal; if it isn’t, or laws aren’t being enforced, political pressure needs to be brought on that State’s Legislature and Administration, especially the Insurance Dept.
    Christians should not be afraid to take on corporations who do this to their employees or their insureds, or a State which fails to demand proper function of an insurer to provide necessary care. Contracts to the contrary should be destroyed by the State, which is failing its citizenry if it doesn’t protect against this kind of thing. Employers who buy such contracts should be publicly excoriated and boycotted by all who care.
    All of this convinces me more than ever that we need to go to a properly constructed universal health care system with a single payer, whether Federal or State or some other regional concoction in sparsely-populated areas, but subject to political pressure from the populace, not the profit motive of people who don’t care a whit for the health of their employees or insureds. Competition among insurance companies for employer-customers simply implies a sort of Gresham’s Law for insurance: coverage will be diminished until it is worthless, as in the case you’ve described.

  3. It doesn’t surprise me. My son was in 2nd grade when United Healthcare denied him for treatment for autism- the reason? There is no cure therefore he should get no services or treatment. Thank God for medicare. Today my son is 17 and getting straight A’s in an academic alternative high school. He will be a contributing member of society no thanks to United Healthcare. It is a shame no one keeps the insurance companies accountable.

  4. Jesus sobs uncontrollably when rendition is practiced in His name.
    The dictionary defines ‘rendition’ as handing over prisoners to a country where torture is allowed.
    On December 22nd, at Advocate Christ Medical Center, near Chicago, amongst the playing of Christmas carols and manger scenes, a 20 year old Mexican man, Quelino Ojeda Jimenez, imprisoned in a now quadriplegic body…unable to breath without a machine, was sent against his will back to Oaxaca, where he languishes in a tortured existence in a facility unequipped to care for him that is so poor they are forced to try and wash out the disposable filters on the apparatus that is keeping him alive. The story was reported in the Chicago Tribune and Orlando Sentinel (http://tinyurl.com/quelinojimenez ).
    Advocate Christ Medical Center is a joint hospital of the UCC (United Church of Christ) and the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).
    Quelino, who is ‘undocumented’ was working on a roof on a large commercial building project near Midway Airport for Imperial Roofing Company. The company claims he was working for a sub-contractor and has since closed, so there is apparently no worker compensation insurance in place.
    The Hospital cared for him for four months. There were community members tending to him in the hospital and the Mexican Consulate was working on his case. Yet on December 22nd, Advocate Christ paid an Air Ambulance service $60,000 to transport him, without his consent, without process of law, to Oaxaca.
    Horacio Esparza, from the Progress Center for Independent Living said, “They threw him out like he was a piece of garbage.” Kelly Jo Golson, an Advocate Christ Hospital senior vice president now says, “We really do regret the way this process flowed and the steps that were taken.”
    I am sure Kelly and others at Advocate Christ, are praying to Christ for forgiveness. I am sure he will hear them over His sobbing and the sounds of the inadequate, non-sterile machine that is straining to keep Quelino alive. I am sure He will forgive them…but I am sure He will starting weeping again as He reads the xenophobic, racist, classist hate contained in the readers posts in response to the Tribunes’ / Sentinels’ story.

  5. Thanks Tom for your thoughtful response. I’m a bit astonished that you would think that this woman’s church and community and family aren’t doing everything they possibly can to help her. Of course, they are. Wouldn’t you, if it were your daughter? And yes, legal channels are being pursued to hold UHC accountable to their contract. All of these things cost money. Money that this family does not have much of. In the meantime, a woman is literally suffering because an wealth-amassing corporation didn’t do it’s job and apparently doesn’t feel that it needs to. To me, this indicates a need for tighter, more ethical, regulation of the industry – because this is one example among many. You also raise another important question: Why should we hold for-profit companies accountable to any kind of religious values? The way I understand your argument is that you think Christianity has no redeeming social value beyond Christian church goers. I don’t believe that. I believe that Jesus’ message of “loving one’s neighbor” and the church’s tradition defending life is not a sectarian message, but one that benefits all of society.

  6. I find it interesting that this entire article is devoted to holding UnitedHealthcare accountable for not acting with compassion, love, and mercy. If I understand things correctly, UHC is a for-profit company and doesn’t try to pretend that they are anything else. I’m not defending them, and it is possible that they are violating a contract they have either with this patient or her employer. If that is the case, we should use the full weight of the justice system to hold them accountable. As a Christian, though, I wonder if it makes sense for me to criticize them for acting like a company and not a church.

    A church, at least in theory, is a body of human beings who have been redeemed, and are being renewed by the Holy Spirit. This is why it makes sense for the Bible to call on churches to act like Jesus did – to have compassion, and to spend themselves on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. Paul, for example, asks the church in Corinth to give financially to relieve the suffering of the believers in Jerusalem. I doubt very much that Paul would write a similar letter to the board of directors at UHC, as I don’t think that Paul would expect UHC to act like a body of redeemed sinners. In fact, UHC is a publicly owned company. While I am sure that there are a few Christian shareholders, many of the shareholders are not either Christian or religious. The analogy to UHC shareholders would be Paul writing an open letter to the citizens of Corinth, criticizing them for not being more generous in their donations to Jerusalem. He doesn’t do this because it wouldn’t make any sense. He addresses his letter to the church in Corinth, calling on them to act like a body of redeemed sinners, because that is what they were.

    Where is a call to the church to help this woman? Where is her local church? If she doesn’t have one, let’s call on the rest of the church to help her. Rose Berger is a Catholic, a member of a very large body of redeemed sinners that has access to immense financial resources, so I wonder why the title of this article isn’t “Why It Makes Jesus Cry When His Own Roman Catholic Church Screws People,” or more ecumenically, “Why It Makes Jesus Cry When His Own Church Screws People.”

    Jesus did not approach non-believers and read them the riot act for not acting like believers. He did call on professing believers, such as the Pharisees, to own up to their hypocrisy and start acting like God-followers. We as Christians should treat companies like UHC the same way that Jesus treated the Roman Empire – by more or less ignoring UHC but reaching out to individuals, including employees and shareholders of UHC, and calling them to follow Jesus, join a church, and take care of the poor.

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