Supporters of socialized health care in Canada and the United States have a
seemingly unlikely friend in Rex
Morgan M.D., the handsome, deeply decent physician who has been a staple of
newspaper comics since 1948.
So far there's no record of the Romanow health care commission or the U.S.
Secretary of Health having consulted the fictional doctor.
However, as any of the 30 million readers of the syndicated strip carried by
300 newspapers in 15 countries can tell you, Rex has come out foursquare in favor
of what his creator calls "a single-payer, state-supported health care system."
Interestingly, the man behind Rex Morgan's position isn't some "communist
or liberal socialist" -- although he has received plenty of mail calling him
that, and worse. He's Woody Wilson, a 55-year-old registered Republican from Tempe,
Ariz., who voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 elections.
"I believe the country that is supposedly the richest and most powerful
in the world shouldn't be forcing its citizens to choose between paying their
mortgage or saving their lives. Yet that is what is happening with millions of
Americans right now," Mr. Wilson said in an interview this week.
"What's needed is health care for everyone instead of dividends for stockholders
in pharmaceutical companies."
Mr. Wilson has been writing Rex
Morgan M.D., a sort of soap opera in comic form, since 1991, having worked
as an apprentice under its originator, psychiatrist Nicholas Dallis (now deceased),
Under Mr. Wilson, Rex Morgan hasn't hesitated to tackle domestic violence,
epilepsy, drug abuse, AIDS, organ transplants, asthma and sexual harassment.
"We've never made people laugh; we're about informing and entertaining,"
he likes to say, and, in fact, medical professionals and support groups have included
some of his strips in their educational packages.
But in recent months Mr. Wilson has pulled his rock-jawed hero firmly into
the far more dicey arena of health policy, even sending him to Washington, D.C.,
to testify before legislators.
The strip's current storyline is dealing with the fallout from the death of
Rex Morgan's friend, Dick Coleman, who lost his job after being diagnosed with
colon cancer. Losing the job resulted in the loss of his family's health coverage
and the threatened foreclosure on the mortgage on the Colemans' home.
In the wake of Dick's death -- "the very week [in June this year] that
Dubya got his colonoscopy," Mr. Wilson noted -- his wife Marsha became borderline
suicidal and his daughter Dana started to use drugs and get involved with criminal
"All because they couldn't afford health insurance," a somber Rex Morgan
mused in one recent strip.
It's estimated that nearly 40 million Americans share the plight of Dick Coleman.
Meanwhile, "We're adding a million or more people to the rolls of the uninsured
each year," Mr. Wilson said.
Mr. Wilson likes to call himself "just a comic-strip guy," but he's
a guy whose wife happens to have a PhD in health-care policy from Massachusetts'
Brandeis University and who "sits and talks with me about my stories."
Moreover, it's a measure of Mr. Wilson's perceived clout that he has been invited
to speak in November at the annual convention of the 9,000-member U.S. Physicians
for a National Health Program.
Despite the flak Mr. Wilson has received from some readers, no newspaper has
pulled Rex Morgan M.D. from its comics section.
"Our problem goes to something else," Mr. Wilson said.
"Strips like ours -- they're called continuity strips -- are perceived
to be old-fashioned these days. So we have to work harder to keep them fresh."
Rex Morgan, he added,"will always have to be about hot issues, will
always have to try to be a bit ahead of the curve, if only because we're syndicated
in so many countries."
Mr. Wilson said Rex's campaign for a national, state-financed health-care regime
"is going to be a recurring theme for years to come."
Right now the fight for a comprehensive medical program "isn't a national
priority," he acknowledged, "nor is there the political will for it."
But this could change in two or three years, if the ranks of the uninsured
swell to, say, 50 million.
"That's a political party, in effect, right there," he said. "If
someone can mobilize those people . . . that's a major force."
Unsurprisingly, those Americans critical of Mr. Wilson's position like to ask
him, "Do we want to have a Canadian health-care system? Do we want rationing?
Do we want to wait in line for hip-replacement surgery?"
Mr. Wilson chuckled. "My wife and I were talking about this and she said,
'Well, in Canada, [health care] is about waiting; in America, it's about money.'
I want the waiting."
© 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc