Dr. Ernest Ceriani makes his way to call on a patient
(from "The Country Doctor"), 1948 by W. Eugene Smith
A few Sunday mornings ago, we were walking up Fifth Avenue by the Forbes Building and two well-to-do gentlemen (one pushing his baby in a stroller) were speaking loudly about the cost and effects of healthcare reform upon their lives. One of the pair pontificated "...and why should they take my money so others can have coverage?!?!"
After absorbing eye-opening news stories in the past few years of a mental patient dying at a Brooklyn Hospital after waiting almost 24 hours to be seen, and the dumping of homeless patients on Skid Row in Los Angeles by hospital vans, one has to wonder if the debate over healthcare will lead to an apex...a sort of coup de grace for our misguided species.
A healthy response to the gentlemen on Fifth Avenue (and to other opponents of healthcare reform) was on the tip of my tongue, but it was troubling me that I couldn't remember the source or the exact words until this past weekend when I dug up the book Danny Lyon - Photo Film, published 1991 by Edition Braus. An essay in the book titled The Arc of Hope by Daniel Jesse Wolff notes: "A democracy, to survive," Felix Rohatyn said late in the 80's, "must at the very least appear to be fair. This is no longer the case in America."
Mr. Wolff also notes: "Americans are notorious for their lack of class consciousness or even class awareness," writes economist Barbara Ehrenreich. "In the face of the most brutal personal dislocations, we lack a vocabulary to express our dismay."
As President Obama pointed out in a recent opinion piece in the NY Times, nearly 46 million Americans (out of a total population of 305 million) currently do not have health insurance coverage. It is not their (or rather, our collective) fault. Some Americans are unemployed and uninsured because of the current recession, while others only work part-time positions that do not offer health benefits. Some even thought they were adequately covered until their insurance company refused to acknowledge and pay for certain treatments or pre-existing conditions.
What if these 46 million "faceless" Americans showed up at the Washington Monument tomorrow and demonstrated and screamed out to insurance company CEOs, elected officials, and the pharmaceutical industry of their plight? Would big business then acknowledge that these 46 million strong exist or will they still send their battalion out to fight change and marginalize those who don't belong in their scripted and very profitable fairy tale?
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who passed away on August 25, 2009, has written of healthcare reform: "A century-long struggle will reach its climax,"..."We're almost there....I believe the bill will pass, and we will end the disgrace of America as the only major industrialized nation in the world that doesn't guarantee health care for all of its people."
So why change, and why now? Because we should all understand by now the luck of birth for some and the plight at birth for others. Because we claim we live in a just society that believes in reason, intelligence and compassion over greed, excess and fear. And because for this country's democracy to survive (and big business and the wealthy know they have been extremely profitable in this system), it "must at the very least appear to be fair". Boys, it's time to play fair.
Rose of Sharon, a character in John Steinbeck's classic 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath set in the Great Depression, would be proud of us all.