Call to Congress: Fund Research and Make Insulin Affordable

There are more than 30 million children and adults who wake up every day with the knowledge that they have diabetes. They are as young as infants, and as old as 100 years of age. Many of them depend on insulin or other life saving medicines for survival. Diabetes has a human and financial cost. The financial cost is $327 billion each year. The human cost is higher, for a lost child or lost grandparent is a tragedy beyond dollars.

Fortunately, our Congress has a working Diabetes Caucus that works together; yes, you read that right, works together across the aisle. They work to fund research for a cure and for better treatment, and they work to protect people with diabetes from exclusion or other discrimination in health care. And they are working on lowering insulin costs.

Later this month, kids and adults with diabetes will descend on Congress, as volunteers with the American Diabetes Association. We will see Congressman Michael Cloud and his colleagues, and tell them our stories, and ask Congress to provide $2.165 billion for the National Institutes of Health’s diabetes and kidney programs, and $185 million for the Center for Disease Control’s Division of of Diabetes Translation. We also ask Congress to continue funding the highly successful National Diabetes Prevention Program. Last but not least, we ask that Congress continue supporting the Special Diabetes Program for Type 1 diabetes and native Americans with diabetes.

Beyond funding research, our Stop Diabetes advocates will demand that Congress act to make insulin affordable for people with diabetes. Not even those in Congress know where the dollars flow when it comes to insulin. What they do know is that the price has doubled in only four years and costs $5,705 per year for the average child or adult with Type 1 diabetes.

Only recently, we discovered in our own small business that there are two costs that touch our lives and our bank accounts. One is the copay at the pharmacy, but the other is the cost of insulin that’s paid by those who pay the premiums for health insurance. We may think that $25 at the counter is a good deal, but when we discovered that insulin was costing hundreds of dollars a month in premiums, we were shocked. What we thought we were saving at the front end was costing hundreds of dollars on the back end. If the real cost of insulin was $100 per month, the premiums would be much lower. These hidden costs are hurting people with diabetes and forcing people off of insurance, so it’s time for transparency.

The fight against diabetes isn’t over, but we are making real progress. And we won’t stop until the heartbreaking phrase “your child has diabetes” is history.”

Stereotyping begets stereotyping, and worse

Stereotyping, such as lumping people together because of their faith, their politics or their national origin is becoming more accepted. That is not a good development. Nor is blaming a group because of the misconduct of individuals.

In an essay published recently, Gary Branfman quoted Martin Niemoller, a pastor who had previously supported the Nazis and was antisemitic. Niemoller had a change of heart. He became a defender of the Jews, and a thorn in Hitler’s side. His famous essay that describes how the Nazis came for the socialists, then the trade unionists, then the Jews, and by the time that they came for the Lutheran pastor, there was no one left to speak out.

The irony of the essay is that it labels one of our country’s largest political parties as having an “antisemitic wing”. And that incendiary charge was based on the words of a young Muslim congresswoman which were indeed antisemitic, as were Pastor Niemoller’s words during his younger years. The young congresswoman did something we teach people to do when they use words that hurt: she apologized profusely after she was called out by the leadership of her own party as well as the opposition party. She is younger than Niemoller was when he was a Nazi and antisemitic himself.

And now, her life is threatened by Islamophobic Americans. And since in a world where language is so strident and irresponsible, we have seen Jewish synagogues shot up in Philadelphia, mosques shot up in New Zealand, and Christian churches bombed in Sri Lanka.

And the young Congresswoman’s life is threatened. Her words matter, yet we must learn to criticize such policies without using antisemitic language. One question each of us might ask: am I helping in the effort to stop stereotyping and demonizing those who are different?

To libel an entire party for the actions of one person is to engage in the very stereotyping that we all know is wrong. Such logic would lead others to say that the Republican Party has an antisemitic wing because many of its candidates engaged in antisemitism only last year. 

Stereotyping would allow someone to make that accusation against a party because then candidate Trump used antisemitic imagery against his opponent, a pile of dollar bills overlaid with the star of David and a picture of his opponent.

That would be as wrong as claiming that the Democratic Party has an antisemitic wing. It does not. The Democratic leader of the Senate is led by an observant Jew, and the first Jewish nominee for Vice President was selected by the Democratic Party. Contrast that with the treatment that former Majority Leader Eric Cantor received as a Republican leader, when his office was defaced with antisemitic graffiti and then he was run out of the Congress by a tea party Republican.

That the Democratic Party and Republican Party have supporters who engage in language like the language Dr. Branfman quotes do not define those parties. As a long time friend, I know that he intended no libel, since he is a well known independent and is a leader in ecumenical dialog and bridge building. Like President Bush and President Obama, who are from different parties, he attacks antisemitism wherever it is found. These former Presidents, along with President Clinton and President Carter, also had the courage to speak candidly about our need to find peace in Israel and the middle east without stereotyping and lumping people into groups. To be sure, we should not stereotype the Jewish people because Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted for corruption, nor should we blame an entire faith for the acts of Islamic extremists. Fortunately, our Presidents defended the rights of Muslims to be free from stereotyping and discrimination even after the 9/11 attacks that were perpetrated by members of their faith. These former Presidents spoke against travel bans based on religious faith instead of security risk.

And yes, that goes for the news media, too. The notion that our nation’s media does not cover antisemitism is thankfully not accurate. Only last month, our nation’s newspaper, the New York Times featured a lengthy expose on antisemitism. Even here in Victoria, when our temple was defaced with Nazi imagery, the Victoria Advocate covered the story relentlessly. It did so again did when our mosque was burned down to the ground. And yes, when the temple’s leaders extended the hand of friendship to their Muslim neighbors, that too was part of the coverage. We didn’t turn on each other by claiming that Jews, Christians or Muslims have antisemitic or anti Muslim “wings”, even though there are members of each faith who use incendiary language about other faiths.

Words matter, especially in America. Our country has stood up to bullies before, and now there are many bullies in Eastern Europe, the same place where millions of Jews were taken to the camps to be killed as their neighbors looked on. In Hungary today, antisemitic leaders demonize Holocaust survivor George Soros and have forced educational institutions out of the country. And in Poland, leaders have made it a crime to speak the truth: that some Polish people helped the Nazis send Jewish people to their deaths. The two American political parties, to their credit, fight such actions, and the fact that some in each party engage in antisemitic language does not brand them as having an “antisemitic wing”. They don’t.

Ironically, the Victoria Advocate recently published its “100 years ago” feature, and included in it was this: in February 1919, two years after World War 1, the Victoria City Council passed an ordinance that made it a criminal offense for any citizen to speak the German language within the city limits. Talk about stereotyping. After all the German immigrant Texans had done for the United States in fighting the Germans in World War I, we told them that they would go to jail in a time of peace, simply for speaking their native tongue. We have come far since that unfortunate action, and now one can hear many languages spoken in our diverse community.

Antisemitism is a cancer unlike any other. It must be rooted out. We are taught: Never forget. We will not. At the same time, branding our nation’s political parties as having an “antisemitic wing” is to engage in the same kind of stereotyping that Pastor Niemoller lamented after his change of heart. Stereotyping begets antisemitism and islamaphobia and encourages people to hate, and to retreat into silos instead of working together for the common good. If we do that, there will always be someone there when they come for us.

We taught them that being gay was a sin, and they listened

The United Methodist Church, like the Anglican, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran and Presbyterian churches, proselytized Africans and taught them Christianity. For hundreds of years, these Christians taught them that women were not equal, that slavery was permitted and that being gay was a sin. Today in Africa, even as women’s rights are being expanded, members of the LGBTQ community face harsh treatment.

Here in the United States, all these churches, except one, have stopped teaching that slavery is permitted by the Bible, that women are inferior to men and that being gay is a sin. That one is the United Methodist Church, which recently refused to remove language from its discipline that being LGBTQ is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” It has stopped denying women equal rights, and has stopped claiming that slavery is permitted.

The United Methodist Church is not known to be more intolerant than its Lutheran, Presbyterian and Episcopalian sisters and brothers. Why, then, does this church lag so far behind in recognizing that God doesn’t make human beings incompatible with Christian teaching simply by being who they are?

Well, it turns out that the Methodists in the United States allow their sisters and brothers around the world to vote on matters of faith and tenets of the church, so that 43 percent of the voters are foreign. In fact, a third of them are Africans, who voted overwhelmingly to keep saying that gay people are incompatible with Christian teaching.

The Lutherans, Presbyterians and Episcopalian churches in the United States did not have to contend with their African brothers and sisters when those denominations embraced the LGBTQ community. In a way, that is good, since young men and women in our country can be embraced by their churches and not condemned for who they are. Yet now, as the tears dry after the vote in St. Louis, we must recognize that we helped create this debacle, by our teachings and by our inclusion of those converts in our faith. They get to vote. They get to be heard. They get to kill proposals to stop condemning the LGBTQ community. And they did, albeit by a narrow 53-47 percent margin. The other American denominations could move forward with doctrinal change without the approval of those they had converted in foreign lands. The Methodists cannot. That is the reality.

They must either perform some sort of separation; either from their foreign colleagues, or separate into different denominations in the United States, since the overwhelming vote of the American delegates was to rid the discipline of the exclusionary language and stop punishing clergy for supporting marriage equality. Even the church’s Council of Bishops supported the removal of the exclusionary language, recognizing that it was not in keeping with Jesus’s teaching, and not very welcoming to young people whose core beliefs is that being gay is not incompatible with being a Christian. Even the Mormon mascot for Brigham Young University has come out of the closet and affirmed who he is.

With this disappointment comes opportunity. In a time of rising nationalism, xenophobia and tribal politics, the Methodists have a challenge in communicating with, and listening to those converts who helped defeat the Bishops’ attempt to make things better. It is true that there are some Methodists in the United States who helped the Africans outvote the majority of American delegates, but without those African delegates, the church would’ve joined the Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians in embracing the LGBTQ community. The road to equality; for women, for slaves and for LGBTQ friends is occasionally paved with thorns, and the vote in St. Louis felt like the sharpest and most painful of thorns. That African delegates are not in harmony with those in our country shouldn’t make them marginalized or condemned, since the African constituents of the Methodist church were converted by us long after John Wesley began this denomination in the UK. The doctrinal changes that occurred for slavery and equality for women came after decades of infighting and a civil war. James advises us to be considerate and open minded.

The Americans and African Methodists must have the courage to deliberate together, argue, discuss and discern what Jesus would do here. We are stuck. This then is an opportunity to share light and love to others on different continents, one that other faiths don’t have. Here is hoping that those of us wanting to press ahead will remember the words of James, who said that “peace is the seedbed of righteousness, and the peacemakers will reap its harvest.” We must understand this even as we are hurting.

Puzzle pieces were handed out at Travis Park United Methodist Church in San Antonio, Texas on February 17, 2019 in anticipation of the vote by Methodist delegates in St. Louis.

Why employers don’t understand how accommodations help them

It happens again and again. Employers, when they receive a request for accommodation, demand answers to questions. Lots of questions, but seldom do they ask one simple question: why do you need an accommodation? Instead, these employers utilize Soviet-style forms, with check boxes and demands for medical proof, even when the employer knows about the worker’s disability. This is against the law.

As I assist veterans and others with disabilities, I find that these employers have been good at ensnaring these individuals in a process that’s doomed to failure. They make the worker show how damaged they are, by identifying “life activities” that are “substantially limited” in doing. They demand more and more medical records and so called “proof” that an accommodation is some sort of medical treatment for a condition. These forms don’t even inform the worker or recognize that an accommodation isn’t a treatment; it’s nothing more than some sort of action to allow a worker with a disability to enjoy and experience their job the way that their colleagues who don’t have disabilities enjoy and experience their job.

Some of the biggest companies, even federal agencies, will not accommodate a worker unless the worker admits that he or she cannot perform the job without an accommodation. Many veterans with war induced PTSD can do the job, albeit with the grief and pain associated with flashbacks, and when they ask for an accommodation to lessen those symptoms, they are blocked. They are doomed for saying that they can work without an accommodation and doomed by their own positive evaluations. That’s not right, and not lawful. Former veteran and former Chief Judge of the D.C. federal courts, Royce Lamberth made it clear that accommodations do more than help worker with a job task; they help alleviate the symptoms of a disability.

And the more employers understand that these workers are among the most productive and loyal, the better off they will be.

The progress in sensitizing employers to the benefits of working with talented workers with disabilities is one that is slow but inevitable, but only if we keep pushing, educating and talking.