A Divide So Wide, A Healthcare Disconnection So Deep

Our national obsession with individualism and the attainment
of personal wealth is so sick and so deep for some of our fellow citizens that
even the bonds of marriage are often no match for the selfishness.

A woman with advanced breast cancer schedules her chemo and
her radiation so that by the time the worst physical side-effects set in, she
is at the weekend and can sufficiently recover to allow a return to work on
Mondays. She has negotiated remote work-time on chemo days and the day
after. She pays for her family's for-profit, private health
insurance because her husband is a small business owner whose business has felt
deep losses during the recession. She must keep working if she wants the
care that is attacking her cancer.

If it sounds brutal, that's because it is.

I had occasion to chat with her husband. He believes
that I am misguided in my work for a progressively financed, single standard of
high quality care for all. He said, "You know, government
can't and shouldn't do everything for us. It's up to us
to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps." Huh?

He really used those words. While his wife struggles
to keep the premiums for the for-profit, health insurance paid, his bootstraps
are sagging. Yet, he shows no sign of wavering from his entrenched
position. He is not particularly active politically. He is not in
the Tea Party or the Republican Party or any party. Yet his obsessive
selfishness learned through intense cultural and societal indoctrination is so
strong that he can bury the reality his wife is living and cloak himself in
righteous anti-establishment, anti-government propaganda.

Arrogance and authority drip from his words along with his
fury in even thinking about publicly funded healthcare. He is furious
that anyone would even suggest an alternate way to handle our healthcare
system. His love for his wife and his sorrow for her suffering are no
match for the depth of his belief in self-will run riot as national policy.

For this man, healthcare is not a human right. Perhaps
more accurately, for this man's wife, healthcare is not a human right.

He laughs at me when I lay out some of the arguments for
more sensible policy. We pay twice as much for our healthcare yet our
outcomes are nowhere near the best in the world. He snickers.

There will be little chance to sway this fellow even when
his wife's cancer might have provided a teachable moment or two.
What I really wanted to say to him, I did not say. I grieved for his wife,
who was not with him this Sunday morning because it's a bad day for chemo
effects and because a working Monday is bearing down on her.

As I listened, I realized even more clearly that fighting for
healthcare as a human right will not eliminate American born and bred hatred
for the weak and the poor and the sick by those desensitized to the perils of the less fortunate. Passing civil rights legislation years ago did not eliminate
racism or racists in America.

I thought about this woman with her advanced breast cancer
and with a husband whose faltering small business makes it really hard for them
to makes ends meet. I thought maybe I should tell him to pull up his own
damn bootstraps, get a job with benefits and give his seriously ill wife a
break. Why don't you have an equal responsibility when the woman
you promised to cherish and love and support is so very sick?
I'd yell and tell him he understands relying on others for help -
look how his wife, even at her own great personal peril, protects him and his
ability to keep trying to make his business profitable. But that
wouldn't be the argument I'd want to make anyway.

Someday, when such a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer,
she'll keep working so long as she is well enough to do so, and under a
single-payer, Medicare for all type healthcare plan, she'll get her care
when she and her doctor decide it best for the course of her illness and
recovery not when it's best for her continued earning of enough cash to
pay insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. The family will not
avoid all the potentially negative financial impact of serious illness, but
they will know that no matter what they will have healthcare. Medical
decisions can be truly medical decisions, not financial ones.

The health insurance bill passed by Congress last spring
does not interrupt this process of brutality. I wish it did. But so
long as accessing healthcare is tied to one's ability to pay (premiums,
co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses), more patients will make
stilted decisions based on job-related, private, for-profit benefits and suffer
greatly as a consequence.

I remain haunted by the words I heard this man say.
Clearly he believes his own rhetoric. And clearly he is not alone in his
blindness to the human suffering of others - no matter how close the

We have a long way to go in educating one another. But
we may have to remember that those who firmly believe in self-actualization
through personal responsibility alone will not be our allies in the fight for
healthcare as a human right. They turned America's romance with
rugged individualism into defiant selfishness. Thank goodness these souls
are in the minority. It's troubling to hear their shameful grumblings,
but the voices of compassion combined with the sound fiscal policy of improved
Medicare for all will surely win out. Our voices must be clearer and stronger. We will not convince everyone that we are right, but confronting this unnecessary suffering we must.

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