Monday, August 31, 2009

Health Care Stories: Azusa, CA

Jeanne wants to know what you will do against the madmen.

We’ve all read about madmen who wanted to rid societies of the sick, the infirm, the crippled, the mentally ill. It’s easy to point these madmen out in history books, and it’s easy to be outraged about the horrors they inflicted on the world because those events are over. Any coward can shake his fist at those who have already been tried and convicted. It is much harder to have the strength to challenge the perpetrators while the horror is in progress.

Our current national horror (some might say one of many) is health care. The sick, infirm, crippled, mentally ill cannot get equal, affordable access to quality health care. Historical madmen would have been thrilled: what a great way to get rid of society’s rejects! Force them to pay for health care, which bankrupts them, and then deny them that health care. Brilliant. Why, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that our system is a thinly-veiled, economically-based genocide that successfully purges the country of those who can’t care for themselves.

But I don’t know any better. Instead, I know a single mom who had to drop her employer-based health care plan because she couldn’t afford the co-pays. I had a friend who couldn’t afford to insure her son because her employer only paid to cover her, and the cost of adding her son was too prohibitive. I’ve got a coworker who can’t get the root canal she needs because she can’t afford the deductible. I have a friend who had no health insurance and almost died from neglect at the hospital when her appendix burst.

I am lucky. My husband, kids, and I are insured through my husband’s employer. And, if my husband lost his job, we would have the option to pick up insurance through my employer. We have a small safety net. However, I feel no sense of security. If our fortunes change for the worse, we could lose it all, too, just like so many other Americans. I have bipolar disorder. My husband had a heart attack a few years ago. Our “preexisting conditions” make us immensely uninsurable. The madmen would be very glad to get rid of us.

Even worse than the madmen, though, are the ones who, against their best interests, stand with them. I’m thinking of a woman who once complained bitterly to me about single moms “getting government handouts.” “But you were a single mother,” I pointed out, “and you had it so hard—-why would you deny these people the help that you desperately needed?” She gave no answer, but her body stiffened as she glared at me.

Why do people go against their best interests? Perhaps they haven’t thought things through. Perhaps they’ve bought into glistening lies like the ones about death panels, lies packaged by health insurance companies and politicians who viciously want to keep the status quo. These are the madmen. Like the bank executives who greedily took bonuses while the banks failed, these madmen keep stealing profits as their industry absolutely fails in providing customers with the most basic care.

We need to do much more than shake our fists at these monsters. We need to stand together and demand that all have access to the health care that all of us need. If we as a people do not work to radically change the current health care system, then we are tacit accomplices in our own suffering and death. The madmen would be pleased.

Azusa, CA

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