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Healthcare Crisis Tears at Fabric of Holiday Traditions

Our elected officials in Washington, DC, are rushing to finish their work and get home for the holidays.  Many of the people who elected them aren't so richly blessed.  Millions and millions of Americans do not get the Norman Rockwell holiday scene played out in their lives because millions and millions of people have been left financially and physically broken and battered by the healthcare crisis.

For decades our elected officials have known of our plight.  For decades they have shrugged their shoulders, packed their bags for their homes and the holidays, and left the work of fixing this system undone. 

Don't wish us a happy holiday season ladies and gentlemen.  Don't you dare.  On my nickel, on my dollar, on the salary and the benefits I provide for you and your family, you will enjoy a measure of wealth I cannot attain.  So don't wish me things that I cannot ever enjoy again.

This year the situation is more troubling by many-fold.  My husband received his Social Security year-end statement that said he would not be getting any cost-of-living increase this year on the same day that the major news outlets reported record Wall Street firm earnings and CEO bonuses.  You don't seriously want us to believe you care about our well-being, do you?

When our at-first slow, but then more insistent financial decline began nearly 20 years ago, we saw a gradual but equally troubling decline in the numbers of folks who wanted to spend much time with us.  It just simply isn't much fun to be with a family in decline.  Aside from the physical and health woes, it's a real downer to watch folks getter poorer and poorer and losing their worldly goods and security.

It's uncomfortable to see disconnect notices from utility companies, collection letters and final notice billings from doctors and hospitals.  It's much nicer to see Christmas cards and gift cards and packages under the tree.

But for millions of people in this country, the holidays are not the time of joy depicted so openly on commercial television or in advertising everywhere you look.  For millions of us, the holidays are reminders that we live in a selfish and cruel society where survival of the fittest is worshiped by the ruling class -- and that ruling class includes those in our elected government bodies who relied on us for their means to riches and the security we cannot embrace for ourselves.

For millions of us, the holidays mean our grown children will go where the money and the stability are and they will take the grandchildren there for the picture-perfect events.  Spending time with the grandparents in the struggle for healthcare justice is not a fun or inviting way to welcome Joyeux Noel.

Robbed of security, robbed of our dignity, still struggling for healthcare justice and broke beyond what we ever would have dreamed, millions of Americans have lost the ability to recreate the holidays we knew as children because we were unlucky enough to get sick while "insured."

And this Congress and this President really do not care if millions more of us suffer the same fate.  They want to hurry the work of reform -- insurance mandates -- so that they can enjoy the holidays we have afforded them.  They do not care that we suffer -- they care that they stay in power and claim some hollow victory while we wait for the day that never comes to claim our share of the dream.

I sometimes hate the holidays now.  I hate the arrogance of those who think it is their hard work -- and somehow my lack thereof -- that makes them more worthy.

But most of all, I wanted this Congress and this President to care and to work hard to make sure my future offered dignity and honor for the struggle of millions who cannot achieve what they have been freely given from my labors.  My work gave you comfort.  My work gave you holidays.  And all you can give me is a lukewarm nod to some health reform measure that makes you richer and broadens the control of health insurance giants over my life?  Sad.

I wanted and still want healthcare for all -- me, you, my neighbors, my friends.  All.  Everybody in, nobody out.

And I am not excluding the Republicans from blame here.  Quite the contrary.  They have lied to the American people and said they care about those on Medicare.  What they really care about is the votes of those on Medicare.  Beyond that they hate Medicare as one of those evil "government run" healthcare plans they so abhor.  Make no mistake about it, when it was time to hear a Medicare for all type reform, Republicans and most Democrats wanted nothing more to do with it.  Republicans didn't care if the entire Medicare program was gutted so long as they used the perceived "cuts" to the program as sound bite fodder.

This healthcare reform effort in the U.S. Congress has been a disgusting display of the rich protecting the interests of the rich.  And all at my expense, quite literally.

What I know for certain is that this Christmas, my family won't come where I am.  I am a nomad created by the healthcare crisis.  I am not a mom or a grand mom who has a place and a comfortable station in life to offer.  So, the kids and the grands go where they can be wrapped in a real American-style holiday.  And I lost that a long time ago when the health insurance crisis and the health insurance industry destroyed any sense of stability I could offer.  I will work hard the rest of my life and under whatever mess of a reform plan they pass this time around just to stay alive.

I will work to just stay afloat and to buy the insurance I will be forced to purchase when I would far rather pay taxes for the healthcare I need under a real reform plan.

And happy holidays to all of my elected officials.  I truly hope you never know what I know this Christmas.

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith Donna Smith is the national chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign for Progressive Democrats of America.  She was featured in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, SiCKO.

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