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The author embracing filmmaker and fellow single-payer advocate Michael Moore. 'I just wanted you know I tried really hard to do better.'  (Photo: Courtesy of the author)

I Let You Down: A Public Apology to Michael Moore

I have fought as hard as I could, but the battle is not won

Donna Smith

Dear Michael,

I am sorry.  So damned sorry.  When you included my story in your 2007 documentary film, SiCKO, I felt not only a huge sense of hope and gratitude but also a larger sense of responsibility to make the whole experience matter.  Here it is. 2016, and I have failed to change the system enough to protect people like me.  The reason I use the 'people like me' label is because you captured the scene in SiCKO during which my youngest child asked the question, “What do we do with people like you?”

One would have thought that Bernie’s fabulous primary campaign and the raising of the issue of healthcare as a human right would have helped advance the chances for single-payer reform.  Not so far.  The Democratic Party platform with its “most progressive platform ever” includes an agreed upon (by both Hillary’s and Bernie’s campaign) healthcare position that at its aspirational best falls far short of single-payer.  Critical to me is the fact that even if that platform plank became real policy – a very long shot – it will be too late for people like me.

My Facebook status this morning says it best:

The clock is ticking for me and millions of others in my age group. As insurers fall away from the ACA exchanges, the remaining insurance plans will have sky-high, age-rated premiums few will be able to afford. 135 days from now. 135 days. I will be priced out of health insurance. Weeded out as too old and costly for the CEO's to risk covering. They are doing their jobs -- so we cannot really blame them, can we? Larry and I discussed options. None are good. Medicaid? Nope. I have to earn enough to keep the bills paid and that puts us above the meager income level for Medicaid. Thank god Larry is covered by Medicare so no worries there. (For my atheist friends I left the god lower case so as not to indicate any reliance on anything outside of myself to solve my own damn problem. Trust me, I know god is not helping me with this. This is a human created, intentional and well considered position our society has taken with regard to aging people and their healthcare access.) Between now and January 1, 2017, I will continue to fight like hell for single-payer, Medicare for all for the future. Tick tock, tick tock. We'll need a very prominent death or better yet thousands of prominent deaths of 55+ aged people who couldn't access care for lack of money and coverage to keep the pressure on, but I have no illusions. There is no change to the ACA and no plan currently under consideration that will stop the tick tock of the clock for millions of us 55-65 years old. We've already been marked as expendable. And maybe we are. After all, no one is seriously raising the issue aside from expendables like me, and who listens to someone already marked as unimportant? Oh, I will write about it, and I will squawk. People will roll their eyes and wish I would just shut up. Others will lecture me on my failings or on holistic medicine. All of their eye rolls and lectures will hit home. I am acutely aware of all of my flaws. I am not that ignorant. The system is a representation of what we as a society collectively value -- and trust me, it ain't me. After all, by my age if I had worked as hard as those CEOs worked or even as hard as many reading this message have worked, none of this would be happening to me, right? Right. I get it. I am a part of this sick, selfish, ugly mess of a system. And I will keep trying so long as I am relevant. Once my value to being part changing this mess is gone, there will be nothing left. Happy Friday, all. 135 days to go.

So, Michael, you may see more blogs from me, and maybe you will see some of the work my organization, Progressive Democrats of America, will be doing to keep pushing to move forward on this and other social justice issues.  My goal is to help infuse more of our younger membership in political advocacy as our generation fades into the sunset.  I am so very grateful so many younger people got involved with Bernie’s campaign, as I know you must be too.

But, please do not see my impending collapse, my failure to actually make change happen as any reflection on your work to tell my story and the stories of so many others hurt by an unjust system.  Having a nine-year run at pushing with every ounce of energy and intensity I could bring was pretty good, I would say.  And you were always in the background, cheering and lifting those of us who kept fighting on.  To my sisters and brothers who were in SiCKO with me, I am also letting you down by not ultimately being able to solve much of anything for any of us.  That was never my intent.

I still value what I said in my Congressional testimony and what is entered into the Congressional Record from July 17, 2007: 

I dedicate this testimony to my brave husband and three other Americans who gave me the courage to tell this story to millions and the conviction that it can do some good:

To my late father, Howard Boyles, who proudly served his nation in the United States Army during World War II and who told me that people have died to protect my right and responsibility to speak up; to Sen. Tom Daschle, who took interest in my family and who spoke up in spite of political consequences; and to an Eagle Scout from Flint, Michigan, named Michael Moore who restored my dignity and my voice on a movie screen in Manhattan and is keeping his Scout’s promise to better his community and his nation.

Because my access to healthcare will be winding down before I was able to see the fight through to actually achieve healthcare justice, others with adequate health, adequate healthcare access, solid incomes, and with a conscience will no doubt carry on.  I just wanted you know I tried really hard to do better.   I thank you, Michael, and I am so very sorry I let you down.  And the answer to that question posed by my own son finally comes.  What do we do with people like me?  This system is just plain kicking my ass.


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Donna Smith

Donna Smith

Donna Smith Donna Smith is the former executive director of Progressive Democrats of America and currently a Medicare for All campaign surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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