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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