Last night, I went to a pro-health care rally organized by Organizing for America. When I got there, there were lots of people holding signs and the crowd was mixed fairly evenly, half pro-reform, half against. Some of the anti-reform signs were hideous so I took lots of pictures. I had to laugh to myself as the pro-reform crowd tended to congregate on the left side of the grassy square while the antis were on the right. I don’t think this was intentional but it was still amusing, nonetheless.
When the rally got started, one of the first speakers was a woman in her sixties or seventies (I’m horrible about guessing ages). She talked about the thousands of dollars of debt she and her husband incurred when he had a lengthy stay at a long-term care facility. In addition to Medicare, they have a supplemental health insurance policy, which was supposed to reimburse them for their upfront costs, but of course, the insurance company never did.
While the woman was speaking, I heard a lot of murmurs and mumbling and grumbling behind me. I was pretty obvious the anti-reformers didn’t understand the moral of this woman’s story: the need to reform the insurance industry.
Another woman spoke who was a former mayor (or high ranking official) from De Pere, WI, which is by Green Bay. I thought she was pretty antagonistic towards the anti-reformers. She kept saying, “If you’re happy with the status quo…” and then throwing out statistics like, “In the last nine years, insurance premiums have gone up 90% for the average Wisconsin family.” I have no idea where she got her information from, as she didn’t tell us. It’s become a pet peeve of mine that people in positions of authority throw these fancy figures around to impress us and then expect us to believe them without batting an eye. Unfortunately, that happens far too often.
I digress. My apologies.
Back to the woman from De Pere. She wasn’t giving a speech. She was giving a lecture to the anti-reformers. It wasn’t effective because it didn’t open up the dialogue. When you talk down to people, they’re not going to listen to you. I’m fairly certain she did not change a single person’s mind about health care reform last night.
A local dental hygienist who is a breast cancer survivor also spoke. She and her husband, a veterinarian, buy private insurance at considerable cost to them. It’s very expensive but at least she has insurance. She was grateful she was able to receive treatment for her breast cancer. A friend of hers wasn’t so lucky. When she found a lump, she had to save for two months in order to have enough money to go to the doctor. The friend had to save money for another couple months to go back to have testing done.
The dental hygienist also told us about another friend who died several years ago because she couldn’t afford her seizure medicine.
Dr. Tom Gabert, an internist in Minocqua, WI, was the keynote speaker. (I looked up his name, heh. I apologize for not knowing the others.) He talked about reforming health care to make medicine more patient-centric not money-centric. He said money is always the number one topic of discussion when it comes to health care, not prevention or wellness. He told us about the countless patients who have asked him to lie about pre-existing conditions so they can get health insurance.
Dr. Gabert said many of his colleagues have left medicine because dealing with health insurance is so difficult. He added, “which is a form of rationing, by the way.” He went on to explain that the health care industry is driven far more by profit than by actual health care. For example, they (clinics and hospitals) make the least amount of money on women and children but they spend a lot of time wooing that demographic anyways. Why? So moms and kids convince Grandpa to come to their hospitals and clinics for hip replacements (and other old man stuff), which is profitable. Another example: the fancy helicopter services and heart care clinics being advertised on billboards, in newspapers and on television. The health industry spends big bucks trying to impress consumers to come to their clinics and hospitals based on their shiny new toys and pretty new facilities (sarcasm is mine) rather than spend money on keeping people healthy.
Dr. Gabert also spoke of the need for malpractice reform, which got big applause from the anti-reform crowd. They apparently think limiting the amount a doctor can be sued for medical malpractice is the magic panacea to the health care crisis. Good grief.
Another local physician, a pediatrician whose name I didn’t catch, spoke briefly about how important it is for kids to have health insurance. He said he believes Medicaid and S-CHIP are very good programs but unsustainable. He advocated a “Medicare for all” type of system.
The Anti-Health Care Rally
After the rally was over, the anti-reformers gathered on the right side of the square. I had been about to leave but I waited to see what was about to happen. Who doesn’t like a good train wreck, you know?
The first speaker was a middle-aged woman (I probably shouldn’t say that as she wasn’t that much older than I am). I couldn’t hear everything she said, but what I did hear alarmed, to say the least. A sampling:
- “I don’t like Obama” after which somebody called out, “Where’s the birth certificate?” I only heard that once, though. Kudos to my fellow Hodags for (mostly) staying classy.
- “I’m not against reform.” She continued on to say that she has worked all her life and put into the system. At this point, things got a little noisy and I honestly don’t know what she said next. I think she said she was entitled to her Social Security and Medicare but I can’t be sure.
- She asked if anyone watched Fox News and Glenn Beck. She said she learned from watching Glenn Beck that if health care passes, Obama won’t cover babies up to two years of age. Yes, you read that right.
- She brought up the “death panel” concept, saying that people over 65 wouldn’t have health insurance anymore. At this point, I raised my hand. All night, the need for civility and respect had been mentioned over and over. I didn’t want to be rude and heckle her so like a first grader, I raised my hand to ask a question. Since she brought up the “Obama wants to kill Grandma” idea that originates with the living will provision, I wanted to ask her if she had a living will. Of course, she never called on me.
The next person to speak was a man who said he worked with employers all over the country. He said employers were very concerned about health care reform, to which the anti-reformers cheered.
I couldn’t figure out why. Why did these people care more about employers and businesses need than what we the patients need? Aren’t we all patients and human beings first? When you get laid off, your employer doesn’t give a flying fig if you have a migraine and need Imitrex or that you still have cancer and need radiation. They just don’t care. What the heck are these people thinking?
Well, by then I’d had it. When the gentleman was done speaking, I saw my opportunity and took it. These people needed to know what the stakes were. They needed to know that socialized medicine wasn’t evil, that human lives, indeed, my life was more important than all of this insanity that’s been going on lately.
I walked up to the picnic table and stood up on one of the benches. I don’t have great balance so there was no way I was going on top of the picnic table. The lady who spoke first at the anti-rally saw I was wobbly and came to give me a hand. (I appreciate it. ) Everyone looked at me expectantly.
Here’s what I said:
Four years ago, I was paralyzed from the neck down. I was four months away from being kicked off my parents’ health insurance so I was eligible for BadgerCare and Medicaid. This is the face of Medicaid. (I whipped my sunglasses off, hoping it was very dramatic.) I understand the budget and financial concerns, but this is about real people. This is the face of Medicaid.
Without my prescription sunglasses on, I couldn’t see anything. I could hear some murmurs and grumbling, though. I hadn’t planned on saying anything so after I spit out those few sentences on impulse, I had no idea what came next. I got down from the picnic tables and left the rally. By the time I got to my car, I was in tears. I was angry at the anti-reformers and at myself.
I was angry at the anti-reformers for allowing their racist and paranoid thinking to get in the way of my life and death need for health insurance. Instead of just listening to Glenn Beck and Fox News, they should be doing their own research. Read the damn bills and proposals, particularly the parts that controversial or confusing. Try and understand why we need health care reform. Contact your congressional delegation, express your concerns and ask them to handle this responsibly.
Please don’t tell me we don’t need anything to change.
I was also angry with myself. I had the bully pulpit for a few brief moments and I felt like I wasted it. I could have used it to advance the conversation but I don’t think I did. I wish I would have said,
This happened to me. Medicaid paid for services private insurance would not have and kept me out of bankruptcy at 25. As I try to work my way off disability and towards self-employment, I need low-cost health insurance. I think a public option would be a good idea, in addition to employer-sponsored policies, private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and the like. I understand there are concerns about the budget and debt but simply saying no is not an option for people like me. Can we come up with another answer?
In the end, I don’t know what good will come of any of this. I wonder if I’m just needlessly stirring the pot by writing about my interpretation of last night’s events. I wonder if any of this is worth it.
This morning I had a doctor’s appointment in Wausau. It was a check-up and relatively minor. On the ride in and while I was at the doctor’s office, I was filled with a profound sense of gratitude that I do have Medicaid, that I am able to go to the doctor when I need to.
Someday, a day that I hope will come sooner rather than later, I will get off disability and Medicaid, but for now, socialized medicine has a place in society. It even has a face and it’s not some bizarre mockup of Barack Obama as Heath Ledger as The Joker.
I am the face of Medicaid. I am the face of socialized medicine. I am the face of health care reform.
It’s that personal for me and millions of other Americans.
We have to get it done.