Sunday, October 28, 2007 7:35 PM

We Have Dead Bodies, So Where’s Our Outrage?


If we just started counting in March 2003 when the Iraq war began, the U.S. health care crisis battle would already have 82,500 dead. Maybe someday we'll build a wall or a monument.

By Donna Smith, American SiCKO

DENVER – With more than 50 Americans dead every day due to a lack of adequate health care, the health care reform movement has all the dead bodies it needs to meet the demands of an outraged public. Yet the movement for true health care reform does not yet garner the attention of nearly as many people as the anti-Iraq war effort.

The fact is that more than 82,500 Americans have died as the result of our broken health care system since the Iraq war began in the spring of 2003. We’re racking up the health care casualties as fast as if we had fought 22 Iraq wars during the same time period. Yet, why don’t the dead matter as much in this battle?

I wonder if some day we’ll build a wall and list all the names of the health care crisis dead. It would be quite a large wall. We have far more names already than the Vietnam conflict. And the people are dying right next door and down the block and in our neighborhoods and communities. I wonder if my name will be on that wall.

Is it because the health care war dead are the uninsured and underinsured? Have we already judged those dead as somehow complicit in their own demise? Have we written them off as folks who were too irresponsible, too stupid or just too unlucky to take better care of themselves? Where the hell is our survivors’ guilt?

I went to an anti-war rally in downtown Denver on Saturday. It was one of many across the nation. It was a powerful gathering with lots of committed people speaking out and some even saying if we’d just stop funding the war we would put that money toward health care or education or other domestic issues. There were hundreds of people with signs and showing great and appropriate remorse for America’s war dead and for all the Iraqi citizens killed.

Then I went to a health care forum. There were nine people there. They were committed. They were concerned. But they were still talking strategy and how to overcome political hurdles and how to grow the movement. Apparently none of us has been smart enough to figure out why more than 82,500 dead Americans does not strike a loud enough chord over the past five years.

And talk about financial waste? Ugh. This clearly is not even the most economical way to handle health care. You see, greed does not really care about the nation’s health at all.

One way we will make that number of health care dead more tangible is to actually assign names to it. That’s what Michael Moore did in 'SiCKO.' He put names and faces with the numbers. I didn’t notice too many slackers or deadbeats among my fellow Americans on that screen.

But, it has been hard work over the past few months to keep reminding people who just haven’t touched it or felt it or internalized it yet, that this crisis is one of those cases that unless we all speak up now, unless we speak for our neighbors in their times of health care trauma and pain, then when our time comes, there may be no one left to speak for us.

So, here we stand with Congress and the president and their failure to agree upon and pass the SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program). Because they’ll be rushing to get to Thanksgiving break, it is likely now that Bush will veto the latest Congressional bill, Congress will once again fail to override the veto and Congress will have to write some continuing resolution legislation to fund the current program for a year. No one will have reached any sort of compromise.

And people – this time very young Americans – will continue to die as Congress pats itself on the back for trying and the president praises himself for holding those nasty lefties at bay. And kids will die. I guess we better get busy on that monument, eh?

Working families that cannot afford health insurance or health care will wait for treatment until diseases and illnesses have advanced. But we all know that, and most of us will turn away from the pain of it and make our holiday shopping lists. Maybe we’ll offer to buy Christmas gifts for a poor child. And we’ll sleep better for that.

But I am joining two of my fellow moms from ‘SiCKO,’ and we’re going on a hunger strike for health care. We want to raise the stakes of the discussion a bit more. We want others to know that we once risked our lives to bring our children into this world, and we will risk them again to make sure they are not casualties of the U.S. health care crisis.

I surely want the Iraq war to end. I hate thinking about the death and the destruction. But I want this completely preventable health care crisis to end too. I think about those 82,500 Americans dead. I think about the kids, the moms, the dads, the folks who did nothing worse than getting sick and being too broke to buy back their health.

And I hope as I make my way through my days of hunger striking that I will spend one minute each half-hour thinking about and praying for the American out there somewhere who is dying at that moment without access to adequate health care. It turns out I’m not very hungry anyway when I think about that.

For more information about the hunger strike, visit American Patients for Universal Health Care at apuhc.com.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007 5:25 PM

Nationwide Vigils Sept. 28 for Health Care Justice

American Patients for Universal Health Care hosts first national action

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Around the country on Sept. 28, advocates for universal single-payer health care will be attending vigils to show support for the families who have lost loved ones because they lacked health insurance.

American SiCKO Donna Smith, also Colorado Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) Congressional District Point Person and PDA Health care for All/Single-Payer Issue Organizing Team member has established American Patients for Universal Health Care (APUHC).

Smith and her husband Larry will join Julie Pierce in Washington D.C. for the Tracy Pierce Memorial Candlelight Vigil on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday, Sept. 28 at sunset. Julie is Tracy's widow, and also tells her story in 'SiCKO.' "Tracy died of kidney cancer at age 37 after repeated denials for life-saving treatment by our insurance carrier." Tracy, Sr., also left behind his 15 year old son, Tracy, Jr., and Julie promised "the fight would not end with his death."

Also on hand will be Dawnelle Keys, who appears in 'SiCKO' and who lost her beautiful little girl Mychelle when an 'out of network' hospital denied the toddler life-saving emergency care.

Joining Julie, Dawnelle, Donna and Larry will be another American SiCKO Adrian Campbell of Detroit who, along with her beautiful little girl, Aurora, has been fighting for care and benefits for so long that they have resorted to slipping over the US-Canadian border for care when needed.

John Graham, 9/11 rescue worker and American SiCKO, will also travel to Washington, D.C., from his home in New Jersey to join in this call for national action. If universal, single-payer health care was in place, thousands of 9/11 heroes would be receiving medical care for a wide range of serious illnesses related to their heroic service at ground zero.

APUHC was established to draw attention to this national crisis that leaves over 18,000 Americans dead annually because they lack health insurance, or because the insurer refuses to approve treatment. Before the next presidential election, approximately 25,000 more Americans will die simply because they did not have adequate health care coverage. Countless others will suffer.

"By holding vigils in cities across the country, we hope to highlight the fact that more American have died in this country than have died on the battlefield in Iraq in the last four years," said Smith. "Americans should be just as outraged over these deaths as they are outraged over Iraq." It is hoped that the vigils will move the issue front and center in the minds of voters.

ACTIONS OUTSIDE WASHINGTON:

In Denver, the "Vigil for Health Care Justice" will take place on the west steps of the Capitol building, Sept. 28 at sunset. They will draw attention to Paul Hannum, who will not be present because he lost his life to appendicitis, and little Thomas Wilkes, a toddler, who will live as long as his parents have the financial resources to continue his life-saving treatments.

In Chicago, from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28, Thompson Center Plaza at Clark and Randolph, CSPAN (Chicago Single-Payer Action Network) will host another vigil and welcome Steve Skvara, the brave union man who asked the Democratic presidential candidates ho he was supposed to cover himself and his wife based on the current health care crisis. Also speaking to the Chicago crowd will be Illinois Rep. Mary Flowers,main sponsor of the Illinois State Bill HB311 "Medicare for All," which has close to 70 co-sponsors.

In Kansas City, a solidarity vigil is planned for 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28, at the southeast corner of the Russell Majors Waddell Park, located on 83rd Street between Ward Parkway and State Line Rd. Near Coventry Insurance Company (the company that denied Tracy Pierce a bone marrow transplant). Tracy Pierce, Jr., will be attending as will other members of the Pierce family.

Plans are also being made in Detroit Michigan and Florida. APUHC is targeting these states: Ohio, California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, Hawaii, Texas and Georgia for vigils, and hopes that other states will join in the effort.

For more information or to get help planning a solidarity vigil, contact Donna at AUPHC.com.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007 11:21 PM

The Short End of The STiCKO

By Donna Smith, American SiCKO, and Founder, American Patients for Universal Health Care

DENVER – In the business section of the Rocky Mountain News on Tuesday, I read a disturbing article. It read, in part:

Physicians are squeezing in more patients for smaller pay increases, according to an annual survey of doctors' salaries.

Median compensation for primary-care physicians rose only 2 percent to $171,519 last year, falling behind the 3.2 percent inflation increase in 2006, according to the Medical Group Management Association. Specialists reported an even lower rate of median compensation gains, with a 1.7 percent overall increase to $322,259.

Doctors are increasingly squeezed by soaring costs and declining payments from insurers and Medicare. The slipping salaries came as primary-care physicians reported a 3.7 percent increase in gross charges, while specialists charged 2.3 percent more.

"Patients can expect to feel the pinch right along with practices as physicians in some specialties see more patients each day for incongruous pay," said William Jessee, president and CEO of Arapahoe County-based MGMA.

But the bad, sad news for docs didn’t end there. The article continued: Some specialists fared worse than others. Salaries for invasive cardiologists dropped 1.3 percent to $457,563, while opthalmologists reported the survey's biggest drop with a 1.6 percent loss in pay to $297,486.

Wait, now let me get this straight. The doctors are unhappy because their salaries didn’t rise enough. And who is going to pay for their discomfort and suffering? Patients. Once again, American patients will pay more for less. And we will do so until we break the cycle by demanding universal, single-payer care for every American.

My husband Larry, another American SiCKO, is working on seeing a cardiologist who supports universal health care because of what that support says about the physicians' motivations, but that's not easy. Physicians for a National Health Program only has three cardiologists as members listed as living in Colorado, and one of them has already retired. Cardiologists are rather fond of the current health care funding system and many would be even more happy with mandates that every American purchase insurance. The pool of potential Larrys would grow exponentially.

But back to the issue at hand. I am so sorry Larry’s cardiologist will only push half-a-million in salary this year. With his investments in hospitals, clinics and his huge group practice, he might not even clear a million. It’s gonna be tough for him. The multiple buildings that house the various locations for the Aurora-Denver Cardiology practice group cost an awful lot to operate and manage. And the facilities are not green by any means, so those energy costs must also be nipping at the heels of the group's profits.

But what is going to be tougher is what Larry will face even more of in the doctor’s office: less time with the physician and higher costs.

Larry provides a healthy revenue stream for specialists wherever he goes. With coronary and peripheral artery disease, he provides a plethora of opportunities for increased profits.

His hips and legs have been hurting for years. Whenever he walks more than about 100 feet, pain begins that is only relieved by resting only to begin again with the next short walk. First, the cardiologist referred him to the vascular specialist to check for claudication. Larry has already had two surgeries on his iliac arteries to relieve blockage, but the pain always returns.

The vascular doc charges him plenty and sends him to an orthopedic doc who does not even complete an examination but orders an MRI and charges $300 for the one minute “interview” he has with Larry. He concludes that Larry’s back is fine (he didn’t order an MRI of the hips as he doesn’t treat hips), so when Larry asks “What about my hips?” the response is to refer him yet again.

By the time he has served his time in the whirling dervish of money-making specialty groups, Larry has seen four specialists (a cardiologist, a vascular surgeon, a orthopedic doctor and a neurologist) a total of eight times, has had only one hands-on physical exam and his insurance (Medicare and Humana supplemental policy) have been billed for more than $3,500. And there is no diagnosis. His hips still hurt when he walks. He has contributed mightily to the income of these docs, and they have contributed nothing but frustration and more pain to him.

Now these same specialists are sad about their salary increases for last year, and so Larry will get even less care? And more charges? Wild way to do business.

But what did PT Barnum say about a patient – oops, I mean a sucker -- born every minute? Was he a cardiologist?

By the way, Larry is switching all of his cardiology business (and the insurance payments) to a cardiologist who supports single-payer, universal health care. He thinks other patients should do the same. Let's walk the walk together.

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