Sunday, August 17, 2008 9:13 AM
Sunday, October 28, 2007 7:35 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
Monday, July 2, 2007 6:39 PM
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
Labels: APUHC, Donna Smith, Iraq War, Universal Healthcare
By Donna Smith, proud American appearing in Michael Moore's 'SiCKO'
ATLANTA – It would be difficult to identify one moment over the past two weeks as the most powerful or moving. As my husband and I have traveled through the U.S. participating in premieres and screenings of Michael Moore’s new film,'SiCKO,' we have experienced things that folks in our income range and social groups rarely do. We have been graciously included in events often closed to all but the most celebrated of celebs.
Michael Moore featured us in the film because we represent what is happening to so many Americans. Our health issues and health care costs drove us to bankruptcy and shame. The past several years have been filled with anguish, and the joy of watching this film begin to make an impact is healing for us.
But a few days ago in Atlanta, I found myself witness to and participant in a health care truth hearing sponsored by HealthCare-Now
at the U.S. Social Forum
. That hearing illuminated more truth – more stories – many like those shown in 'SiCKO'. But the hearing also made it abundantly clear that no amount of slick advertising or marketing whitewash can cover up what Americans are enduring within this private health care system. The truth just cannot be hidden.
Listening to story after story about trauma and devastation suffered by fellow Americans who are uninsured or under-insured is difficult, even sickening. The moral issues cannot be avoided. And as Michael Moore asks in 'SiCKO,' “Who are we?”
But I also began to see a broader view of the whole private health care issue within one story told by a nearly toothless woman from Ohio. Though her speech was definitely impaired by her lack of teeth, she spoke with courage and without self-pity which might have been easier and certainly justified.
She had health insurance just a couple of years ago through her job. She worked, paid taxes and paid her health premiums. But when her dental problems became more and more serious, her insurance plan would not cover necessary treatment. It did cover removal of teeth. So, slowly but surely, her teeth were pulled.
She stood before us now in an open-air tent in the hot, thick, mid-day air in Atlanta. Huge fans circulated the air and could have drowned out her voice, but the crowd was silent and her strength was enough to overcome the background noise.
She told us that after her teeth were pulled, her employer fired her because she was “unsightly.” We gasped, but only in support of her not because we didn’t believe a modern American company would do such a thing. She told us that then she started down the steady slope towards homelessness and use of the public health system that included emergency room visits for health issues that might have been handled in a less acute and less expensive setting, if she had insurance or cash to use another provider.
This beautiful, powerful woman had been reduced to this. And she had most surely been yanked off the roles of taxpaying Americans and onto the public program rosters. How does this make even economic sense?
She goes from contributor to being a “drain” on the system nearly overnight. And as she slipped into deep poverty and homelessness, she also developed physical problems from her terrible living conditions and a lack of preventative or even early interventional health care.
Another scenario for her could have been, if we had universal health care, that she had her dental problems addressed properly and her teeth saved, kept her job and her modest housing, continued paying taxes and eventually moved forward in her life. Even if I remove all the hideous, non-compassionate ethical considerations, it just flat seems smarter to me that we stop this cycle.
Every American product now includes in its cost a certain percentage of mark-up for health costs and coverage provided by American businesses. On large ticket items, like cars, that cost increase can often be several hundred dollars. Since most Americans finance the purchase of cars, they now also pay interest on the amount that the car manufacturer must pass along in health care costs for its employees.
Those costs have mounted in every industry across the nation. In many cases, those increased costs are making American products and services less competitive thereby driving the increased dependence on foreign products and the loss of American jobs. This cycle is well-documented. Every major news organization has done reports on the issue, and few arguments countering this cause-effect economic pattern have been offered.
Small businesses can often not afford to even offer health coverage at all or offer only plans with high premiums and deductibles which are more like catastrophic coverage.
So this whole private health insurance system is costing us all – top to bottom, morally and economically.
So why do we keep it up? Do we see those toothless individuals and still think, “It couldn’t happen to me?” Or do we step over them on our way to our American dreams, still believing we did it the right way and they did it wrong? Poor people have poor ways, don’t you know.
After sitting in that hot tent in Atlanta and listening to this woman with more dignity than any person I’ve yet to meet on this marvelous journey toward changing this system, I realized that this fight will take much more than a call for moral justice or outrage.
The battle to pass House Resolution 676
, single-payer, universal health care, as offered by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and 75 other co-sponsors, will take moral indignation, no doubt.
But the fight for universal health care will also take a tearing at the very fabric of the American psyche – that independent streak that makes us pioneers and homesteaders and internet start-up gurus.
We all grew up with this gut full of self-righteousness, lightly colored with compassion as we attended church each Sunday. But now we need to flip-flop the equation a bit.
We’ll need economists on board to really compare the costs of the whole package: including a very direct assessment of how universal health care would play out in an average family’s budget and in the budget’s of the SUV-driving, three-car-garage in the suburbs owning families.
Let’s get really down to the nuts and bolts of the reality. Toothless, unemployed, uninsured women cost us serious money. If we cannot see her pain and see her humanity, then can we at least run the numbers?
As for me, I don’t need to run the numbers. I see the costs for her. I feel the costs for myself in the lack of self-respect I feel when I realize I am part of the system that is doing this to her and hundreds of thousands of others. And I know that I never again want to hear a fellow American woman stand before me apologizing for her lisp due to a loss of teeth and assuring me that she once had a beautiful smile.
That cost is simply unacceptable on any level. There is no political spin fast enough or whitewash dense enough to cover this American woman’s truth.
Labels: Atlanta, Donna Smith, HealthCare-Now, HR676, SiCKO, Universal Healthcare, US Social Forum
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