As a practicing Catholic, I deeply appreciate that Pope Francis this week issued an indictment of economic "exclusion" in the first major document -- or "Apostolic Exhortation" -- of his papacy.
During my own Thanksgiving celebration I will give thanks for the progress our country made this year toward setting right one important factor in economic inequality -- making high-quality health insurance coverage available to hardworking Americans who can't afford it.
For many people who will gain coverage Jan. 1, gone are the days of putting off a doctor's visit until a condition has worsened so badly that it puts your life in jeopardy and bankrupts your family. That promise will come true for millions more Americans as they sign up for healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act -- known, too, as "Obamacare" - over the next four months.
However, as I sit down to a Thanksgiving feast I also ache and pray for millions of Americans who won't be able to obtain health coverage because, as Pope Francis notes, we treat people as "leftovers." They are not only the people we donate canned food to before our Thanksgiving meals, but also our friends and neighbors with jobs and homes who are forced to choose between food for their families and a medical check-up.
In the pope's bold statement condemning an "economy of exclusion and inequality," he says starkly: "Such an economy kills." Certainly, when our neighbors put off needed health care and instead end up in an emergency room with a fatal or chronic illness they suffer needless pain =- and may even die. When too many people are "left on the fringes" like this for too long, the pope warns, the politics of exclusion pose a threat to all of us that no security systems can quell.
In our own country, we see Republicans under the thumb of extremists saying no to extending Medicaid to more people who can't afford health coverage. We see them saying no to comprehensive immigration reform that would keep hardworking families together. And we see Republicans saying no to a long-overdue increase in the minimum wage for the increasing number of Americans who can find only low-wage work.
Consider the stories of two low-wage nursing assistants who will have dramatically different options for healthcare coverage because one of them faces the politics of economic exclusion at the state level.
Elizabeth Aviles of Waterbury, Conn., helps patients with their back pains while suffering her own, but thanks to rapid confirmation that she qualifies for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, she'll be able to take care of herself now, too.
Marie Museau of Hialeh, Fla, in contrast, would have qualified for Medicaid, if only her state hadn't refused to accept it. This mother of four says the $600 a month family health coverage offered by her employer would represent nearly half her monthly income. Museau has a heart condition but can't afford to see a cardiologist. She worries that if she takes ill, she'll no longer be able to provide extensive care for a son who was severely injured in a car accident.
Now is the time for our country to stop treating people like Marie Museau and her son as "leftovers," to end the politics of exclusion and to build on -- rather than tear down -- the good work we have started through the new healthcare law.