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A Pagan Response to the Affordable Care Act

Pagan Witching SymbolsStarhawk Image

Starhawk, committed global justice activist and organizer, is the author or coauthor of twelve books, including The Spiral Dance, The Fifth Sacred Thing, and The Earth Path. Her latest is The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups. She is a veteran of progressive movements, from anti-war to anti-nukes, is a highly influential voice in the revival of earth-based spirituality and Goddess religion, and has brought many innovative techniques of spirituality and magic to her political work. Her web site is www.starhawk.org. Starhawk was recognized as an Utne Reader Visionary in 1995.     

Editor's note: This post originally appeared at Dirt Worship, Starhawk's blog on earth-based spirituality, permaculture, magic, politics, activism, and Paganism.    


Jason Pitzi-Waters, of the Pagan Newswire Collective, asked a few of us to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. Here’s mine:

A Pagan response—or rather, this Pagan’s response for there no universal agreement among Pagans on any issue–to the upholding of the Affordable Care Act has two aspects: is it good for us, individually and as a community, and is it in concert with our Pagan values.

While the Act is not as good for me, individually or many of us as a single-payer system would be, it is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got. Like many other Pagan writers and teachers, I’m self-employed and have been pretty much all my adult life. I’ve had health insurance since my mother brow-beat me into getting it in my twenties, with the same company. While I’m pretty healthy for my age, I’ve seen my premiums go up and up every year, to the point that they were costing me more than my mortgage, more than my food budget, more than anything else. Now, if I were being taxed for a single-payer system, when my income went down my payments would go down. But with private insurance, the price just keeps going up and up and up! When it finally reached over $1200 a month, I started looking for other options. I tried switching companies, but I’m now over sixty, overweight (not alone among Pagans in being so!) and with minor but irritating health problems that somehow drove my projected premiums up even higher! So I switched to a lower-cost plan that has a $6000 deductible. That would keep me from losing my house should I get a serious illness, and having lost five friends in the last five months, mostly to cancer, I can’t ignore that possibility. I’m still trying to save up the $6000 to have ready in the bank should I need it suddenly—because if I do get sick, I won’t be able to travel and teach which provides the bulk of my income.

Meanwhile, I encountered the dreaded Socialized Medicine when I was in England and needed a new asthma inhaler. I was able to get an appointment at the local clinic in Totnes—the same day I asked for one. I saw a doctor, who gave me a new prescription. He very apologetically informed me that I would have to pay for it, he was so sorry, because I’m not on National Health. I said that was okay, as an American, I was used to it. The clinic had a pharmacy on the premises, and the pharmacist filled the prescription, also expressing regret and embarrassment that I had to paid. He then charged me just over 5 English pounds—less than $10, for two inhalers, each of which costs me about $35 in the US!

I left, infuriated—not at the National Health, but at our own rip-off system. Why should we pay two, four, seven times as much if not to enrich somebody at our expense? Since I shifted my insurance, and since my own trusted doctor retired, I haven’t been to see a doctor since, except for a couple of weeks ago when I had a serious bout with asthma after camping out in the desert. I went to the clinic at the University of California. I had to fill out a form before I saw anyone, stating my financial qualifications to be seen. The form informed me that the visit would like cost something in the neighborhood of $450 dollars! But they couldn’t tell me how much, ahead of time. No one tells you what any specific treatment costs, before you have it—yet you are expected to pay. I know there are many preventive things I should be doing, at my age—like keeping a watch on my blood sugar levels, but when money is short, as it often is, I hesitate to make an appointment or sign up for tests that might break the budget. And I think many others, Pagans and not-Pagans, are in the same situation.

So for me personally, the ACA will help. The insurance exchanges may allow me to get a better policy at lower cost. Some of the provisions of the act assure more justice and fairness for everyone. And while it’s not the National Health or Canada’s public insurance, I believe we are in a better position to push for more when we build on success than we would be if we had to recover from failure.

I didn’t mean to write quite this much. Do I have feelings about this? Evidently I do!

Now, as for the ethics. Our traditions tell us that we Witches were the village healers, the wise women and cunning men who offered herbs and treatment and magic to the sick, especially to the poor. As such we have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.

I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent. On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it. My personal health is not separate from your well-being. Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control. If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided. We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility. No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us. Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help. No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die. If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.

To sum up, universal access to health care is consonant with our core Pagan values of interconnection and interdependence. The Affordable Care Act is a small step toward that end, flawed but better than no change at all. As Michael Moore has said, it should spur us to keep working for a better, more equitable system. But I believe we’ll do better building on a small success than we would have trying to recover from an abject failure. I hope as Pagans we can help to lead the way.

Image by Andy Potter, licensed under Creative Commons.