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The Bangor Daily News (Maine)

Time for Universal Care

Very few people in the United States remember the Great Depression. And to our discredit, we don't spend much media time hearing from those seniors. Most of us have to learn the details from history books or even novels on the subject.

Put "The Grapes of Wrath" back on your reading list. Even if you read it back in high school, you'll find it eerily poignant reading it again. Especially the early chapters where Steinbeck goes into great detail discussing the powerful banks, how much more important they are than people and how much sway they have over government officials.

Oddly enough, most of the scary conditions in the book already were in place before our own great depression hit this past fall. Millions homeless, hundreds of thousands of them our military veterans, people dying for want of medical attention, smart kids unable to pursue an education because the price tag has outstripped their earning potential: we've got it all.

The one remarkable thing about our times is that our economic collapse may have brought us to the tipping point. Our society and our individual consciences have long tolerated a certain amount of tragedy when it happens to somebody else. But now that the rest of us - from fat cats to the middle class - are losing wealth, homes and health insurance, it appears that everyone is headed for the Dumpster. Consequently, our economy, our society and our government are finally prepared to make corrective changes, hoping to avoid universal calamity.

Perhaps you watched the president's speech from Elkhart, Ind., on Feb. 9.

I have to watch; it's my job. And anyway, it's like a car wreck - except that this mess we're in right now was no accident. We picked a fight halfway around the world, hired no-bid contractors with money we borrowed from often unfriendly foreign countries and removed the safeguards from our financial system. All so we could lull ourselves into believing that we would become a more flourishing and robust nation by doing so.

With unrighteous hands we cracked the whip on "terrorism" and now the lash has recoiled and struck us in the back. And that backlash hurts.

The president told us that 598,000 U.S. jobs were lost in January. All these newly unemployed workers won't create homelessness or food insecurity or health care shortages in the U.S. They'll just swell the ranks of the millions already experiencing those nightmares.

That's when the tipping point appears. And it's the tipping point that the folks in charge want to avoid, no matter what.

So the president stood in Elkhart and enumerated the many ways the stimulus money would stave off further cataclysm, including millions and millions of dollars to pay COBRA bridge health insurance premiums for the workers who recently lost their jobs.

U.S. taxpayers, many of them from the same pool as the nearly 50 million Americans currently without health insurance, will be borrowing money from their grandchildren - after first indebting them to China - to pay insurance premiums.

And it's not because a half-million more people without health insurance matter one fig when put up against 100 times that many who already live in fear of illness or injury.

And it's not that the insurance companies and drug companies and all the rest of the for-profit medical establishment don't want to lose the revenue the recently laid-off generated as workers.

And it's not even that insurance companies who sell COBRA make so many campaign contributions that they can pretty much tell Congress what to do.

No, it's because our bloated, costly exclusionary and at times deadly health care financing system is teetering at the brink and may tip over.

It's because this year, as he has for many years, Michigan Rep. John Conyers has introduced HR 676, which already has garnered nearly 50 co-sponsors - a bill that restructures our health care system much like the rest of the civilized world and guarantees health care for all Americans.

And it's because poll after poll, like the October 2008 ABC News poll, shows that two-thirds of Americans support changing our current system to a universal system.

Call Congress and the White House. Tell them to pass HR 676. The tipping point has come.

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Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is an author, activist and advocate. She is the author of "Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States."  Her new novel, The Magic Diary, is due out in late spring.

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