My Heart is Breaking Again Today

CHICAGO - You'd think I'd get over it already. After reading so many patient horror stories and knowing how many people are hurting for healthcare, you'd think I'd have thicker skin. But I sat alone again this morning in the dark and cried. And I cried because this recession - this depression - is going to mean more and more people will have less access to healthcare both through insurance and through other means.

ABC ran a piece this morning that described the ghost town-like atmosphere in some communities where foreclosures are growing and people are just up and leaving their homes and many of their personal belongings. Trash collectors come through and empty out the homes of the food, the dishes, the clothes, the TVs, the microwaves and the toys left behind. One of the young workers wondered when it might be his own family, his own kid's doll...

These aren't events that just happened when the stock market took a dive or AIG failed or Lehman's execs went to the spa to relax. These families had been in crisis for months leading up to their fleeing. They had borrowed from friends and family members to pay the bills, they had answered angry collection notices and calls, they had tried to shield their babies from the stress, they had gone to work every day and tried to keep the ship afloat. It took a while... and neighbors knew it, friends knew it, teachers knew it, pastors knew it.

Lost jobs - in record numbers -- and lost homes mean less money for health insurance. Anyone who has left or lost a job in recent years knows that COBRA benefits can be outrageously expensive to continue, and many families simply cannot pay a mortgage and those high premiums. And as tax revenues drop for cities and counties and states, the ability to fund health facilities to treat the uninsured and the underinsured will suffer more. When those cutbacks are made, they can be measured in public health outcomes for years to come. And how many media reports have we all seen in recent days about the stress of these times and the health issues related to that stress?

When will we get over this collective position of ignorance and inaction that keeps us from acting simply because for the moment our own worlds are not rocked or ravaged? We are our neighbors' keepers. If I am happy keeping my own health insurance and access to care but know that my neighbor has none, I am responsible for fixing that - for both of us. If I have a home but my neighbor is losing theirs, it is my problem too.

So I sat in my chair this morning, listening to the opening Wall Street bell on TV and watching the commentators dance between telling us the grim reality and singing a happy song so we won't actually feel bad about the collapse. And I cried the same sort of guttural cry I felt when months ago when I internalized the reality that we could give one another healthcare if we wanted to... our denial of that right to each other is an active political and societal decision not an accident.

My favorite movie of all time is the Wizard of OZ. I always like the scenes where the curtain has been pulled back on the great and glorious OZ simply to show a man feverishly at the control panel trying to direct Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. Finally, finally, finally, the crew learns they always had courage and a brain and a heart. I know, it's a simple message and a bit moralistic. But sometimes I find the simple messages speak to the deepest of human pursuits and the common dreams we all share.

This tanking economy isn't about the media reports or the leaders at the controls or any of that power structure stuff we all have been trained to watch and listen to - they are the same people who did know it was coming and chose to wring out a bit more profit before they sounded the warning bells. The tanking economy is hurting our neighbors. It is hurting our kids. It is hurting marriages. It is hurting our towns and states.

And as the depths of the greed finally deliver the expected and long anticipated results, our already broken healthcare system will suffer more deeply from the compounding of damage done by private, market-invested, for-profit corporate control of a basic human right that is to be cared for when we are sick.

I wonder how many other Americans cried this morning when they saw that young trash collector lamenting as he tossed another baby-doll in his trash bag. If we don't collectively act soon on the healthcare crisis and move toward public funding and away from volatile private markets, it won't be just more inanimate dolls we're allowing to be tossed in the trash. It will be more and more very real American lives.

The curtain has been pulled back, and we always had the heart, the courage and the brains to change it. We were just too hoodwinked to know. It is time - well past time - to stand together and act.

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