Sunday, August 17, 2008 9:13 AM
Wednesday, July 16, 2008 5:14 PM
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
Founder, American Patients United
National Co-Chair PDA's Healthcare NOT Warfare
Communications specialist, California Nurses Association/NNOC
CHICAGO -- During every national election cycle at about this time in the big races, I start to want to scream into the great abyss of political hype flying around. "You don't speak for me. You haven't seen what it's like to live in America's real middle class for a long time," I want to thunder as loudly as they do their messages of kinship with me.
I am a middle class grandmother. I grew up in Illinois. I was raised to care about God and country. I may not have achieved a great level of renown, but I think I have just as much right to weigh in on this nation's future as those who claim to know me but just don't.
Whether it's Lou Dobbs blowing hard on CNN about his affinity for the great middle class of this nation (and his salary is what?
) or Barack Obama or John McCain claiming empathy by slamming down a shot and a beer (and the last time they bought half a tank of gas because payday was still three days away was when?
), none of these people know what middle class life feels like right now, today in middle America. They may grab a position or two that they know is sexy enough to get media attention, but they don't get it -- they do not get me -- and they won't be my best advocates unless and until they do.
Let's talk healthcare, for example. And let's talk reality for middle class folks like me. This issue permeates so many different parts of my life. From where I work to where I shop, rising costs for healthcare invade not only my bottom line in wages and benefits but also every business and every product and every service I use.
I know gas prices matter too, but any wonk who claims to speak for me is lying if he or she fails to talk about what the costs of healthcare are doing in a much more insidious way. If today's price for a night in the hospital or an "extended" visit with my doctor was posted on every street corner like gas prices are, I dare say the conversation might shift. And while we're at it, let's post the cost each business paid for health insurance coverage for its employees.
Thank God I have insurance coverage through my employer. And thank God my husband now has coverage through Medicare. So, in theory, the issues of access to care should be golden for us and for millions of others in this nation. Yet I have to spend weeks waiting for care, get just moments being assessed for needed care, then weeks more waiting for more assessment and all the while missing precious work time and not being helped to feel better or have better strategies for preventative care. That is my middle class reality.
And let's talk everyday life, for a moment. I see gas prices rise and fall with little relationship to world conditions to which I am privy. I get the impression that the twists and turns of those markets have more to do with making money and then yanking my chain with prices that fall back just enough to provide minimal relief. During the points when the prices are surging, everything in my world gets more expensive, yet when the pump prices recede just a bit, everything else stays at the inflated price. I am not stupid, and that is my middle class reality.
My middle class reality is that at any moment I might not be middle class. And that reality is what keeps me in constant worry and always listening for some understanding of that reality.
SiCKO was released a year ago, and I often tell audiences I am the blessed one from among those people featured in the film. I have the honor now to work for a great organization -- the California Nurses Association -- and I can pay my rent and my basic bills again. And we even have a newer used car for the first time in eight years. I will never again be a homeowner, though. There are not enough working years left to repair my damaged credit following our bankruptcy due to illness while insured. I am afraid about the "what-if's" -- every single day. My security is tenuous. That is my middle class reality.
I watch my country's infrastructure crumble -- the potholes, the traffic jams, the weakened and old bridges. I worry about the gun violence our young people live with -- and I am married to a hunter, a man who loves guns used for sporting purposes. When I do get to fly, I am herded onto airplanes that may or may not take off on time or at all -- and I have no recourse for time lost, bosses angered or family members inconvenienced. I wonder if any of this will matter if the global warming issues overtake any of the momentary concerns and the planet does not survive our abuse.
And finally, I do love my country and our troops and my freedom. I am sad about our current world situation as I think about what World War II vets like my dad fought for and believed in. Are there times when war must be waged? Yes. But I am afraid we've completely screwed up our set of priorities and really do not like our warring for oil and world dominance while we send mosquito nets and missionaries into areas where tens of millions die enduring conditions we will not fight. That is not my middle class realty nor my values at work.
I am not safe in my homeland. I am bombarded by conditions over which I have no control that threaten my personal safety daily. Healthcare costs and all the deaths related to that crisis right here on American soil are evidence enough for me -- my personal safely is not being protected by anyone.
There are plenty of people in the middle class who could and should speak up during these troubled times. I just want those in the upper classes who claim they speak for me to stop it... tell me the truth for a change. You speak for whatever interest you find potentially profitable at the moment. But you do not speak for me.
I will speak for myself. You will not define which issues to rant about and impose on me. My daily life defines the issues for me. And as one of the middle class reality wonks in this nation, I can tell you I am pretty angry and pretty disgusted with all who claim to know better than I do what the world I live in is like.
Labels: american patients united, CNA, CNN, Donna Smith, Lou Dobbs, McCain, Obama, PDA, SiCKO, single payer, Universal Healthcare
Wednesday, June 18, 2008 2:36 PM
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO, Founder of American Patients United
CHICAGO – So, here it is folks. Many intelligent and gifted leaders believe our healthcare system needs major reform and that a single payer system would be the ideal way to accomplish that overhaul. Yet many of those same bright people opt to support “incremental change” as the way to begin fixing a system that leaves millions without any access to healthcare and millions of others with inadequate access.
Just down and dirty: a single payer system would have every American pay into one pool for healthcare (just as we now pay into Medicare), and all claims would be paid from that one pool to patient-chosen doctors, clinics, hospitals and other providers. Publicly financed, privately delivered healthcare. That’s what single payer is.
Awesomely simple and exquisitely responsible, single payer offers patients maximum flexibility in seeking quality healthcare, and it offers the nation maximum “bang for the buck” by removing the mark-ups for excessive profit necessary in the current for-profit, private health insurance markets.
It’s not a difficult concept.
The incremental health reform plans are quite convoluted and difficult to follow. Designed to protect all the corporate, for-profit entities currently making money in our system, it is nearly impossible to accomplish universal access to care while maintaining the status quo of our national corporate healthcare system.
Make no mistake about it, Americans already pay more for healthcare than any other people on earth, and many don’t even get care at all though they are legally bound to pay it for others. (To read a great piece on this, See “Paying More, Getting Less
“ by Joel Harrison in Dollars and Sense. As author Harrison points out, even the uninsured spend at nearly 10 percent of their incomes paying tax burdens for healthcare others will get, including their elected representatives.
We run scared rather than stand tall. We die and let others we love die without healthcare rather then fight the battle against the titan insurance industry and the gigantic pharmaceutical companies. We are not behaving like we give a damn; we are behaving like we need to beg for relief, for care — like we are weak.
We lost our generational fire somewhere between the Sea of Tranquility and the Lower Ninth Ward. How else do we explain our national ability to watch our fellow citizens drowning on rooftops while our national emergency manager worried about whether or not to roll his sleeves up for the cameras?
When did we become a nation of people who settle for the possible? We used to be made up of pioneers with spirits as big as the open plains and dreams to match. We built railroads no one ever thought we could, had the generational fortitude to win World War II, fought against oppression during the civil rights battles in the 60s, clawed and clamored to put a man on the moon first and told ourselves there were no limits to our aspirations.
Then we softened, and we began to settle for only what we thought we could get. I blame my generation – we baby boomers sold out in ways that our children and grandchildren are now dying for. We let our guard down when Viet Nam ended, when Watergate wrapped up, when Jimmy Carter lost and when Ronald Reagan clamped down on the labor movement and used the air traffic controllers as his ghoulish examples of what happens to people if they stand up together for what they believe.
We began to internalize a behavior of settling for the possible rather than losing the farm. America’s leaders behaved in the world like drunken bullies, demanding allegiance and rewarding compliance to what our leaders dictated. We taught ourselves that to succeed one must never break rank, lest you be crushed by those more powerful.
Why were we not in the streets, up in arms – quite literally — for our brothers and sisters in New Orleans? Why are we forgetting them still?
We are no longer our forefathers’ daughters or our foremothers’ sons. We lost our emotional and societal grounding and sought easier, softer ways – earn money, buy stuff, retire early, buy more stuff. We judged one another more based on superficial acquisitions than substantial accomplishments.
Well, it is time for the people of the nation to stop it. Just stop it. We know better than this, and we are smarter than this. Stop settling for the pabulum and demand the best solutions not just the possible. Healthcare for every person in this nation is not a pipe dream nor is it impossible to achieve in our lifetimes. We do not need to cede this battle to the next generation or the generation after that.
Don’t worry about the insurance companies and the pharmaceuticals… they’ll find ways to make cash under a new, single payer system. Some folks will want to buy and have the resources to buy designer meds and procedures. And more power to them. But the vast majority of us will welcome paying into a single pool that will provide us the basic of health and preventative care. When I hear the incrementalists talk, I know they understand that any healthcare system built on profit-making cannot stand the test of justice and compassion – nor can it stand the test of fiscal responsibility, else we wouldn’t be having these problems today.
I admit to my complicity in not fighting soon enough or hard enough. I am ready for this battle. I was trained in life by a World War II veteran and a mom who worked hard to provide me with a good life full of opportunity. Now it is my turn to fight another tough American battle: the battle for sanity and common sense and the exponential potential of single payer. I want to leave this nation a better and stronger one, and unless I help fix this mess, I will surely have failed.
And I am my father’s daughter. I do not like to fail.
Labels: donna smith american patients united single payer
Monday, June 2, 2008 2:51 PM
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO, communications specialist for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee
This isn’t such a day of honor for Michael Baranik of Jennings, LA. His nation doesn’t seem very grateful for his service. He is dying. And he is being denied the medical care that could save his life.
Here’s what Michael wrote in as he told his story on the guaranteedhealthcare.org
website: “In January 2007, on the worst day of my life, I sat in a doctor's office and was told I had terminal cancer, and then in the next breath he told me my insurance was not good enough to cover reimbursement of the chemotherapy.
“Now I am a retired military veteran, I spent 24 years in the United States Navy, I served my country for 24 years, now my country is giving up on me.”
Many Americans think that veterans always have access to quality healthcare through the Veterans Administration system. Many Americans think that when our leaders espouse loyalty and admiration for our military personnel that it means these men and women are adequately taken care of as the heroes we all know they must be on our behalf when our nation calls. But as Michael tells us, quality care for our service men and women is often not the reality.
“I have no choice of my insurance. I thought my military insurance was good coverage and was accepted by most doctors. What I found out was most doctors are not accepting military insurance. I had to go and beg doctors to give me a chance to live,” Michael wrote.
He had to beg. A 24-year veteran of the United State Navy was left begging for care. Not exactly the picture of honor and glory we paint as we place wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns or place flags on every corner. Michael begged.
“I was shocked at the unpatriotic sense these people have. I will never in my life recommend any person join our armed services. Why should they? So they can get sick and be told, sorry, we know you fought for our country, and this is how we repay you,” he said. “It is insane and un-American.”
While it is true that our VA system is leaps and bounds ahead of what millions of uninsured and under-insured Americans can access, veterans’ healthcare is grossly underfunded in this nation, and those service members and veterans who are covered under Tri-Care (and do not receive their healthcare through the VA) often find themselves victim to the same insurance denials that the general population suffers.
Michael kept trying. “Luckily I begged and begged a doctor who said he would only give me seven treatments, because of insurance. Insurance was his primary concern, he even told me, ‘Tri-Care just doesn't cover enough’ ...like I have anything to do with that. This is what I get for serving my country for 24 years. If I had known this when I joined, I would have never joined, I would have left this country, given up my citizenship and lived in a country where they respect the men and women that protect their freedom.”
Wow. On Memorial Day 2008, this is what we gave Michael. We did not give him honor or glory or blessings or peace. We gave him sorrow and regret and longing for compassion.
If our nation had in place single payer, universal health care, Michael would have a chance to live. With access to the treatments that might abate his cancer, Michael would not spend his days feeling as though his sacrifice was dishonored. With adequate healthcare through publicly funded, privately delivered single payer care, all veterans of this nation – and all the citizens they fought to protect -- would enjoy the peace of mind they truly deserve. HR676
, The National Health Insurance Act, now has 90 Congressional co-sponsors
who believe that a single payer system is the right way to address our healthcare crisis. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan is the chief co-sponsor of the bill, and the 80,000 member strong California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee supports this bill and is actively working to encourage its passage. Nurses know that veterans deserve healthcare and that they do not always get that care.
Still, in spite of how his nation is treating him, Michael said, “Thank you for letting me share.”
Isn’t it we who should be thanking him?
I will protest for him in San Francisco tomorrow, June 19th, at noon, 4th and Howard. It’s time to tell the private insurance companies that Michael is a patient not a profit, Michael is a veteran not a bottom line, Michael is a hero not a revenue liability. I will thank him by standing up for him as he stood for me.To see all the venues for protest of the private health insurance industry, check out:
Tell your story, participate in our blog and find out more at:
You may also learn more and get more involved at americanpatientsunited.org.
Labels: CNA/NNOC veterans healthcare private health insurance healthcare denials SICKO Donna Smith AHIP protest
Thursday, May 1, 2008 5:16 PM
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
"Building a New World"
First Summit of the World Prout Assembly
Seminar entitled: Revolution
Remarks delivered by American SiCKO Donna Smith:
Left to right, Donna Smith, Cindy Sheehan and Reggie Cervantes together before Cindy delivered her keynote address for a conference session held at Radford University last weekend. Donna and Reggie, both American SiCKOs, participated in the conference as panelists, and Donna keynoted the health care section for activists gathered from throughout the U.S. and beyond. Hundreds attended the event. (Photo by Reggie Cervantes)
RADFORD, VA — Wow, to be here with Cindy Sheehan, the woman with whom I have shared so much in cyberspace as we both appeared on Michael Moore's website over the months but never met face-to-face. Cindy, I am so sorry for the loss of Casey. But I am also so joyful for you as you welcome Jonah, your first grandchild. And I am grateful to you for your continued heroism on my behalf and on behalf of all American mothers and sons, fathers and daughters. Blessings to you and thank you for being here. And may you be elected to Congress as a new co-sponsor for HR676, the National Health Insurance Act.
My fellow revolutionaries, I bring you glad tidings from your fellow citizens. Over the past nine months, I have visited 27 states and the District of Columbia spreading the single payer, universal health care message. And I can tell you without doubt the revolution has begun.
In some places, there are seedlings popping gently but with determination toward change: in South Dakota, in Mississippi, in West Virginia, in North Carolina and in DC, and even in Dick Cheney's Wyoming.
In other places, saplings are more steady and and beginning to bare witness that will soon hold the steady branches of real change: in Indiana, Pennsylvania, California, Washington state, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama -- even Utah and Colorado, New York and Maryland. Add Florida and Katrina-ravaged Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina and Massachusetts. Delaware, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, and now in Virginia.
These people of the revolution gather and they speak and they plan -- the next action, the next protest -- the real stuff of people on a mission. And they look to us to help provide the passion and the fuel necessary to inspire them onward. The noise of discontent must blossom and mature. And to the extent that each of us here -- engines of revolution in thought, in action and in art -- inspire and conspire with one another and all of our fellow citizens, the revolution will come.
Are there any other Phi Betta kappa members in the room today? Were you taught the "secret' handshake the revolutionary and pre-presidential Thomas Jefferson and the other founding members used to safely identify one another? I was. And with that lesson came my knowledge that this nation was and is still most assuredly subject to conditions that require, that compel, that demand not secrecy so much as loyalty to one another as revolutionaries and to the causes for which we would still die.
For me, that cause is the basic human right of health care for all. And make no mistake. I am a patriot in the most sincere and revolutionary traditions of my foremothers and forefathers.
On November 19, 1864 (and I have an affinity for that date since November 19th is my own birthday), Abraham Lincoln said, "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers set forth upon this continent a new nation -- conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
I am holding him to that promise and to that truth. I am holding you to that promise, and I am holding my nation to that higher purpose that uplifts and empowers us all and all people of the world.
Code word for the new revolution? RADFORD. Onward, my friends to the revolution. Thank you.
Monday, April 21, 2008 3:32 PM
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO and communications specialist for CNA/NNOC
Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and Boston -- The movement to reform healthcare in this nation is growing, and it is edging its way out of the quiet, borrowed conference rooms of social justice organizing meetings and into national labor headquarters, community centers, state houses and the streets. This week alone, I saw Americans from 9 to 90 in three states and six separate venues stand up and even jump in the air calling for true reform.
In Washington, D.C., a noontime showing of Michael Moore’s ‘SiCKO’ at the national AFL-CIO building as part of the 2008 Labor Film Fest and within several hundred yards of the White House drew a great crowd. Rep. John Conyers, chair of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, addressed the crowd and continued to push for his bill, HR676, The National Health Insurance Act, which now has 90 Congressional co-sponsors and which would create a national, single-payer healthcare plan. It was a significant step forward for a film about the travesty that is the current U.S. for-profit healthcare system to be shown in this location at this time.
If national labor organizations would take the endorsements of Conyers’ HR676 by more than 400 labor locals more seriously, the national labor movement might well revolutionize the future of healthcare for its members and the entire nation. Healthcare justice marched forward a bit on that screen at the AFL-CIO headquarters last week.
In Minneapolis, less than 24 hours later, Conyers told attendees of the “Healthcare is a Human Right” conference that we will win single-payer in the future, and we will win it with “love and with logic.” We are so lucky, Chairman Conyers said, to live in a nation where to disagree does not mean we must hate one another. As we go forward, he noted, we will continue showing that not only is HR676 the right and just way to reform healthcare but also the most logical and sensible and sound means as well.
The people attending the Minneapolis conference were largely poor people fighting for all manner of economic justice and good sense. Many shared stories of pain and suffering, and Conyers listened patiently and compassionately. Healthcare justice nudged forward on that cold and snowy April Saturday at a Minnesota community center where one of the nation’s most powerful lawmakers honored the struggle and uplifted the fight.
Then in Boston, fists were blasted into the air and voices raised to acknowledge Tom Morello’s 2008 Justice Tour stop supporting healthcare for all. Morello performs as The Nightwatchman but also played for ‘Rage Against the Machine’ and ‘Audioslave.’ Morello brought with him Gary Cherone of Extreme and rapper Boots Riley of the Coup – and even Wayne Kramer of MC5. The crowd was filled with every imaginable age group, and the concert fired people up and gave them voice and gave them dignity. And Morello donated all of concert proceeds to the movement.
After ‘SiCKO’ was shown in the same auditorium in the Boston state house where the healthcare is a human right amendment to the Massachusetts constitution was buried forever just months ago, Morello convened the Justice Tour performers again on the Boston Commons.
In spite of rain, driving wind and falling temperatures, Morello and his fellow tour members played on. He performed “Alone Without You,” which was written for ‘SiCKO’ as American SiCKOs Adrian Campbell of Detroit and I embraced each other and finally mourned for one another and for all who still suffer at the hands of the broken healthcare system.
As the show wrapped up on the wet and windy Commons and a child tossed a ball in the air as guitar strains wailed and drum throbs pounded, Morello and the other artists led the crowd in a defiant and proud rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” A park police officer sang next to a protestor and an 80-year-old jumped up and down on stage with Morello.
And last week the movement for healthcare justice marched forward with love and with logic and with a little rage all across this land.
Friday, March 7, 2008 9:06 PM
ST LOUIS – Citizens in the ‘Show Me’ state lived up to their billing when more than 150 people turned out on Saturday night at the St. Louis Ethical Society to watch ‘SiCKO’ and to hear more about healthcare from American SiCKOs Donna and Larry Smith. The event was a huge success with guests enjoying free popcorn and lemonade provided by volunteers and lingering for more than an hour for a lively question and answer session led by Donna.
Earlier in the day, Missourians for Single Payer (MoSP), led a rally and march in University City, MO, where nurses, patients, and healthcare activists joined together to carry signs and even a coffin to call attention to their work for healthcare reform.
On Sunday, the Ethical Society listened to an address by Donna Smith entitled, “Beyond SiCKO” that included a photo slide show presentation and more education on common sense healthcare reform. The crowd gave Donna a standing ovation following her address, and several audience members told her they now understand and fully support single payer reform as a result of her visit and all of the healthcare weekend activities in St. Louis.
Friday, February 8, 2008 12:32 PM
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
CHICAGO – Pressure and worry robbed me of my sleep for so long that when I slept through the night on Sunday, I thought it a fluke. Then I slept through the night on Monday and again on Tuesday. Though on a hide-a-bed folded out into an apartment living room still jammed with unpacked boxes, my soul and my body have begun to heal.
How many other Americans, I wonder, have spent years as I did struggling to rest with worries about health care and insurance and money and just staying afloat? For the past 20 years, my sleep patterns have drifted from bad to worse as our lives were upended by health concerns and made absolutely terrifying by the financial ruin that followed.
But now, just a year after I first met Michael Moore during the filming of “SiCKO,” I am in a new job with the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee – and I have decent insurance benefits and an apartment that is warm and safe.
After the devastation of the past few years, as these blessings unfold for me, I can feel the rising urgency to see that every American family who labors and grieves for dreams crushed and life savings wiped out by the broken health care system find relief through the realization of national, single payer health care for all of us.
There is no way that the kind of mental, emotional and physical stress we have endured has not contributed to some of our health woes. And the stress is being felt and shared by millions of people in our society. Yet, I have not seen anyone truly talk about what that is doing to the burgeoning health costs in this nation or what it is doing to family dynamics or what it does to our communities. Angry, worried, frightened people may be easier to control, but they are costly to maintain in such a state.
Now, my life has not become an overnight utopia. My personal issues and stresses will always have some play on my time and energy. But the gift of sleep and the gift of even this additional measure of peace-of-mind is such a welcome and unexpected relief.
I was prepared to give everything I had and everything I am to the fight for real health care reform. I was giving so much that my body and soul were weary and yet unable to find rest or restoration. But now with greater strength and tenacity, and with the support of this marvelous organization for which I now work, I can truly give the best measure of myself. Talk about empowerment…
And isn’t that what we’d like to see for every American? The opportunity to live and work freely and without fear from for-profit, systemic health care disaster is a gift we can give one another. Single payer is not the evil enemy of the freedom. It is one of the best ways we can reinforce and strengthen personal freedom for every American.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008 4:18 PM
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
DENVER, February 1, 2008 -- California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s health reform plan that included mandated health insurance purchases crashed and burned early this week on the West Coast legislative highway. But undaunted by that most recent defeat for mandates, Colorado's Blue Ribbon Health Reform panel -- the 208 Commission -- decided to recommend mandates to the Colorado General Assembly on Thursday afternoon even though achieving universal coverage through mandates is already a failed model for reform.
Colorado need not search too hard to see the failures of plans like that recommended by the 208 Commission for Coloradoans. In Massachusetts, a two-tiered system of health care is entrenching itself as the insurance mandates and connectors that were the brainchildren of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney take hold and price average, working-class citizens out of market for buying affordable, quality health coverage.
Meanwhile, the 208 Commission in Colorado patted itself on the back and soaked up the accolades of legislators as their report was offered up in a 12-page Colorful Colorado brochure. The recommendations read, in part: 'Require every legal resident of Colorado to have at least minimum health coverage(enforce through income tax penalties; provide affordability exemptions)' and 'Create a 'Connector' to assist individuals and small businesses and their employees in offering and enrolling in health coverage.'
Americans throughout the land -- and certainly in Colorado -- should now be feeling a distinct feeling of Deja vu. After months of work, millions of taxpayer dollars, the testimony of hundreds (if not thousands) of citizens and even the independent cost and savings assessments that show single-payer reform as much more cost-effective and efficient, state legislatures continue to ignore factual information and simplicity in favor of complexity and punishment. Citizens already punished by not being able to afford health coverage will then be slapped with penalties administered by new government personnel required to enforce the mandates and collect the fines for non-coverage. Those who raised the red flags about government involvement in the delivery of health care don't seem to have any problem creating new bureaucracy to protect insurance company profits.
As reported in the Boston Globe, 'The (Massachusetts) Connector system is encouraging insurance companies to include only a limited network of cheaper physicians and facilities in some plans to hold down premiums. Patients who wish to see more expensive providers will have to dig into their own pockets. Dr. Steffie Wollhandler, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, worries that the Connector will revive Gov. Romney's original idea of enrolling poor people in plans that only offer access to neighborhood health centers ill-equipped to treat anything beyond routine ailments. Forcing people to buy substandard care they cannot afford is not universal care, she says. 'It is a hoax.' And so Massachusetts is marching toward a system of two-tiered medicine -- the alleged market inequity that universal care is supposed to cure.'
Back in Colorado and with disregard for what other states are already experiencing, the 208 Commission did not march boldly forward with health care reform the would truly provide access and affordability for Colorado's residents but rather chose to dabble in the disappointing -- a retread of the plan least likely to offend the powerful insurance industry lobbyists who lingered gleefully just outside the Old Supreme Court Chambers and greeted legislators as they went in to listen.
The take home lesson: America’s health insurance industry is the problem. Any reform based on a prominent role for the industry precludes success, because the private health insurance industry is simply too bureaucratic and expensive. The administrative overhead in the current private system approaches 30%. The 208 Commission did recommended work on administrative costs and a restructuring and combining of Medicaid and SCHIP offerings, which the state legislature now says may be the only reform it will move forward this session. To do otherwise is simply too costly, said State Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, in Friday morning's Rocky Mountain News.
He's probably right about the cost issue -- at least if he really read the Lewin Group's assessment of the only reform plan that would save Colorado any money at all -- the Colorado Health Services Program, the single payer option supported at public hearings but considered politically controversial. Mandates do cost a lot, as is evidenced in Massachusetts in dollars spent and in difficulties created for working class citizens.
The failure of the mandate model in the six states that have tried it (and as is unfolding currently in Massachusetts) can be directly attributed to the private insurance industry. Each of these state reform efforts promised cost savings, but none included real cost controls. As the cost of health care soared, legislators backed off from enforcing the mandates or from financing new coverage for the poor. Just last month, Massachusetts projected that its costs for subsidized coverage may run $147 million over budget.
The “mandate model” for reform rests on political surrender: avoid challenging insurance firms’ stranglehold on health care while coercing the uninsured to purchase costly insufficient insurance policies. But it is economic nonsense. The reliance on private insurers makes universal coverage unaffordable.
It is ironic that what started out as a “politically feasible” alternative to the California single payer bill turned out to have little political support when it came under scrutiny in the California Senate. California mandates failed the “politically feasible” test because supporters surrendered to the insurance industry in advance on cost control and then gave them a blank check in the form of millions of new customers.
Far better for Colorado to learn from the damage done in other states and follow California's lead in rejecting mandates. It's no better in the Rocky Mountain West than on the East or West coasts. Mandates never have and never will take the place of true health care reform. And citizens are waiting for leaders who are bold enough to stop paying tax dollars for the rewrites of broken plans.
Sunday, January 6, 2008 7:46 PM
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
DENVER -- The pillars did not crumble and the crosses did not quake as Michael Moore's documentary 'SiCKO' played on the screen in the sanctuary of the First Universalist Church of Denver. More than 100 people attended the forum hosted by the churches Social Justice Committee, and the group lingered for more than an hour after the film to talk with two of the film's subjects, Larry and Donna Smith, of Aurora, Colorado.
The First Universalist's Social Justice Committee has already endorsed single-payer (publicly funded, privately delivered), universal health care, and the forum was one in a series held to give the community an opportunity to explore the issues. Dave Bean, webmaster for Health Care for All Colorado, was also invited to speak about state efforts to pass a single-payer plan.
The Smiths expressed their gratitude in being able to speak within the Denver faith community where the discussion of universal health care is sometimes not so welcome as the ill-informed or ill-intentioned equate single-payer coverage with socialism or even communism. Some more conservative churches never discuss the subject -- nor would they dare show 'SiCKO' -- lest the right-wing elements go on the attack. But Donna Smith thanked the Universalists for being part of the larger faith community which must speak up on behalf of those who are suffering at the hands of the current health system.
Dave Bean spoke about Colorado's effort at health reform, including the upcoming January 31 report of the blue ribbon commission on health reform to the Colorado state legislature. Though a huge number of Coloradoans attended the commission's public hearings in support of single-payer reform, the commission is poised to recommend mandated insurance coverage as part of their own solution while the state's governor, Bill Ritter, takes care to make only incremental, politically cautious plans for change.
Smith reminded the crowd that there already is national legislation for single-payer reform. HR676, the National Health Insurance Act, already has 87 co-sponsors, though no one from Colorado's delegation, sadly. Smith said those who wonder why their Congressional member does not sign on to HR676 need look no further than their campaign contributors for the reasons. 'Democrat or Republican, some of our leaders are plain bought and paid for,' Smith said. In particular, the group asked about Rep. Diana DeGette, D-CO, and Smith urged the group to look at opensecrets.org
to find all of the more than 400,000 reasons why the popular Colorado Democrat has not co-sponsored HR676 as yet.
Since it was January 13, the Smiths also asked the audience to say a prayer in remembrance of Tracy Pierce, who 'went to sleep' for the last time on January 13, 2006, and then died five days later after having been denied numerous treatments for the kidney cancer that claimed his life. January 13 is also Julie Pierce's (Tracy's widow) birthday. The group spent a few moments in silence. The Pierce's story is also a part of 'SiCKO,' and the Smiths have become dear friends to Julie and Tracy, Jr.
The church will continue its efforts in support of single-payer health care reform in the months to come.
Labels: Bill Ritter, Colorado, Diana DeGette, Donna Smith, HR676, Larry Smith, SiCKO, Tracy Pierce
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
DENVER -- I am the one. 47,000,000 and one. As 2008 dawned, I joined the ranks of those people in our nation who have no health insurance coverage. For the first time in my life, I have no way to seek medical care in this nation. No government program will cover me, and there is no private insurance available to me that I could afford.
In my family, I am the only one now uninsured. Children who make more have good policies and coverage, and even children who make much less qualify for some government help.
My husband is covered by Medicare and by the supplemental plan we carry for him. But I am many years away from qualifying for that program. When I picked his prescriptions up from the pharmacy yesterday, I was grateful to pay just $50 for his portion of that bill.
I have already begun weaning myself off the prescription medications I have. I do not think I can ever get away from the thyroid medication I have taken for many years, but I told the pharmacist to put back another medication last week when I learned it would cost me $30 without coverage. I stopped using the Advair inhaler for my asthma almost three weeks ago, and I will just use the rescue inhalers I have left. And no more cancer checks or preventive care of any kind now until I find a way to secure some coverage.
I heard presidential candidate Mitt Romney say last night that a high percentage of those without health insurance can afford the coverage and just choose not to buy it. I do not believe that. I heard him talk about forcing people to take personal responsibility for their health care costs and coverage. I have done that for all of my adult life. In fact, I made sure all of my six children and my husband never went without coverage, even when some of the children's biological parents remained absent from any effort to support their offspring.
Larry and I came together 32 years ago, each bringing two children to our marriage and each having full custody of those children. We then had two kids together. We worked and had a home and put food on the table for many years before the tsunami of health concerns swept through our lives. By then, thankfully, most of the children were raised. They were spared the front row seats in the collapse.
I remember when my dad was dying from pancreatic cancer almost 13 years ago that I cried out to him as he lay in a coma, "Daddy, please don't leave me here alone." My dad was brave -- a World War II vet who worked hard and gave me a marvelous childhood and a deep faith in God and in the goodness of my country. The loss of his presence in my life has been painful. And the loneliness continues, perhaps deepened now by the realization that my life and the value of my life has been reduced to what an insurance company actuary says and not what I worked for and not what I have achieved.
In the living room, Larry is asleep on the couch -- thank God, he rests. He has gone through so much in the past few years with his health struggles. I cannot sleep well at all now. I wake. I think about the "what ifs" and I worry. I think about 2007 when we appeared in 'SiCKO,' testified before a Congressional sub-committee, and rode a 1980 school bus on a grassroots tour to promote real reform that would save our fellow Americans from our fate.
At a meeting of Colorado health care reform activists yesterday, I heard good and committed folks discussing how to keep political pressure on leaders who don't grasp the depth of the problem. I'll admit, I felt diminished sitting there. I felt like a yoke that weighs on society and on a system gone so wrong. Others can argue from a position of strength and confidence in their positions, and I must argue from a position of weakness and personal fear.
Last night I also listened as presidential candidate John Edwards sought to infuse more passion to his position by saying he understands the plight of the working and middle class in this nation. He proudly pointed out his father in the audience and acknowledged that his family gave him the opportunity to achieve what he has as an adult. He said he wants special interests out of the equation in deciding our national agenda. I'm for that, but I don't see how we can do it when so much money buys so much influence. But somebody has to start somewhere.
So, the journey Larry and I began 32 years ago together with hope and with intensely responsible and committed work will wind down with a very different outcome than we had imagined. We hoped for time to enjoy life and enjoy each other when the back-breaking and mind-numbing work of raising up six children ended. Instead, health concerns zapped that dream and re-routed our plans.
And Daddy left me here after all. But I am not alone. I may be uninsured and unprotected and devalued by the current system. But I am a fighter to the end, and I will continue my life's work to inform every American who still doesn't get it -- presidential candidate or not -- that I am not in this boat because I wanted to be or because I choose to be. I need and want a lifeboat -- the boat I paid for, I changed thousands of diapers for, I cooked meals for, I rode commuter buses to work for, I went to church for, I started cold cars for, I earned my college degree for, I bought insurance for, I paid Congressional salaries for, I fought for -- and that my father risked his life for.
I want what working hard for in America for all of my adult life should have afforded me: just a little peace of mind and to rest next to my husband without terror. I want to know that if I get sick I can go to the doctor. I want a mammogram (now overdue by months). I want the asthma medication that makes me breathe easier. And I do not want the high and mighty judgments of those who never wanted for any of those things.
But most of all I want my now struggling, sometimes cranky love of my life to never, ever think it was his failing that we ended up at this place. I want him to sleep so that when I rise up fighting again in the morning, he has the strength to stand by my side until this battle is won.
Labels: Donna Smith, john edwards, SiCKO
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