I had just returned from Florida where I was trying to help my grandparents navigate around Florida Republicans’ long waiting list for Medicaid home assistance when I got a call that one of my good friends, Gilbert Mercier, the Editor in Chief of News Junkie Post, was in a coma.
This was one of those unexpected moments that turn our world upside down. Gilbert and I had just missed each other in Los Angeles a few weeks before. In the beginning of February, we were trying to organize a dinner; and now at the end of February, he was in a coma.
He had suffered an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. The doctors put Gilbert into a coma so that they could perform a bypass and allow the damage to repair itself under controlled conditions. He must have summoned up some mighty fighting power, because just a month and a half later, his doctors are calling his existence a miracle. He not only pulled through two surgeries, the first with 9% chance of survival, but even in his weakened state, when I finally got to speak to him, he was talking about the Occupy movement.
Gilbert and his News Junkie Post team have been covering the Occupy movement with a passion that exceeds all others on the web. If there’s one thing Gilbert believes in, it is the importance of a true movement of the people. In fact, he was on his way to DC when he suffered his catastrophic health crisis…
….without health insurance.
Gilbert is going to be rehabbing for the next six months, unable to work, but each day accruing more and more medical debt, on top of the financial obligations he already has.
Like me, Gilbert has worked in the film business for a long time, where you have to qualify for your insurance every year based on the days you worked or dollars earned. The insurance is exceptional if you qualify, but if you don’t, and you have the bad luck to have a massive heart attack, well, you’re going to be worried about a lot more than surviving your health crisis.
Against the backdrop of the Supreme Court debating the “constitutionality” of the individual mandate for health insurance, I’m watching the implications of our policies unfold in a very personal way. I already believed in a social safety net, but now I’m going to be an even more vocal supporter of universal coverage. What I used to see as corporate greed and lobbyists out of control I now see through a lens of personal horror. After you’ve changed your beloved grandparent’s diaper and watched a hard-working friend lose everything because he had a catastrophic health event, you aren’t really in the mood to hear about the evils of socialism.
I suspect certain members of the Supreme Court are debating the political ramifications of their decision far more than the actual constitutionality of an individual mandate, seeing as one of the original framers backed “socialized medicine” way back in 1798. Forbes reported:
In July of 1798, Congress passed – and President John Adams signed – “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.” The law authorized the creation of a government operated marine hospital service and mandated that privately employed sailors be required to purchase health care insurance.
Keep in mind that the 5th Congress did not really need to struggle over the intentions of the drafters of the Constitutions in creating this Act as many of its members were the drafters of the Constitution.
Oh, no, the modern day activist conservative judge knows more about the intentions of the founders and the context of an enlightenment era revolution than did the framers. Just trust them. The framers would want citizens to die at the hands of for profit healthcare corporations who are allowed to do whatever they please until the “free market” regulates them like it did the banks. Sure, a lot of us would be dead, but at least the American “free market” (aka: socialized corporate profit and too big to fail protection from debt) would be alive and well.
And of course, the individual mandate is really a conservative idea, calling for citizens to take responsibility for their own healthcare instead of not buying insurance (because it’s too expensive or they don’t qualify under previous laws) and then forcing those who do buy it to absorb their expenses. Naturally, in order to make a mandate like this work, insurance needs to be affordable and available to all, neither of which describe the state of health insurance prior to Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
What is the conservative alternative to the ACA, a law based on free market principles of competition and involving personal, individual responsibility? They have none, except to take refuge in the “liberty” of the “free market”, by claiming that in spite of the contradictory facts, restrictions on healthcare are being caused not by insurance companies that won’t honor their contract or by a system beleaguered by the absorbing the costs of the uninsured, but because government is restricting us via regulations. They want government out of our “lives”.
They say the free market will solve everything. I wonder why that isn’t working for my Grandparents in Florida, and why they have spent two years on a waiting list for care. Florida recently privatized aspects of Medicaid home assistance, which means more people are on waiting lists. It turns out that for-profit privatized care costs a lot more and provides a lot less (big surprise).
Florida’s privatized free market wait list is starting to look a lot like Sarah Palin’s real death panels, when hundreds of Alaskans died waiting for care until the federal government had to take control of Alaska’s state run Medicaid program. We note that the federal government had to step in to rescue the citizens from the incompetency of a state-run program.
These same conservative judges who are debating the “constitutionality” of the individual mandate are also arguing that the government should have the ability to track, detain and surveil citizens. The obvious failure in this argument for “small government” and failure for a viable health care alternative reveals the ugly reality that killing the ACA is a politically motivated gift to the wealthy. It is not the uber wealthy, after all, who lay in hospital beds wondering how their entire life savings was gutted in one moment or who give pause before calling 911, even when they are pretty sure they might be dying.
I can’t get a conservative to articulate their moral vision for America, wherein poor and middle class people are deprived of healthcare, essentially of life, due to their class. It seems they want “liberty” to the exclusion of life and the pursuit of happiness.
A liberal alternative to the individual mandate is universal healthcare. If Gilbert, as a French citizen, had suffered his massive heart attack in France, he would not be in rehab right now worried about how to pay off his massive medical debt. In France they have universal coverage. And contrary to the conservative fear mongering, they don’t wait for healthcare in France and they get to pick their doctors. In fact, France is repeatedly ranked number one in healthcare, while America has placed last among industrialized nations. American healthcare also costs much more; so die a few more talking points of the ill-informed.
In France, everyone has health care. However, unlike in Britain and Canada, there are no waiting lists to get elective surgery or see a specialist, Dutton says.
“The French hold individual liberty and social equality very dear … ‘liberty, equality, and fraternity’ — of course the slogan of their revolution,” he says. “And in this country, of course, we have similar ideals: individual liberty, social equality — equal chances for everyone.”
But the French have done a better job of protecting those values in health care, Dutton says.
“There are no uninsured in France,” says Victor Rodwin, a professor of health policy at New York University, who is affiliated with the International Longevity Center. “That’s completely unheard of. There is no case of anybody going broke over their health costs. In fact, the system is so designed that for the 3 or 4 or 5 percent of the patients who are the very sickest, those patients are exempt from their co-payments to begin with. There are no deductibles.”
Death is inevitable, but living fully is not. Neither is having a government that truly puts the basic needs of the people first. That is something you have to fight for.
In Florida, my grandparents have been waiting on Governor Rick Scott’s waiting list for two years for Medicare assistance, and across the country, my good friend Gilbert is fighting to get well enough to worry about how to pay his medical bills. Both my grandparents and Gilbert are responsible with their money and have paid into this system for years. My Grandfather fought in World War II and worked all of his life, saving for this inevitable day, but it’s not enough.
These are real life examples of our policies in action. Gilbert’s case exemplifies why Obama’s ACA was just the beginning of the change we need in this country, and my grandparents’ experience demonstrates why privatization doesn’t work for anyone but the corporations that get the government contracts.
Gilbert is still recovering, and will be for a long time, but he is here with us. Lucky us. We need all of our voices to engage in the process of shaping the direction of our country. In Gilbert, we have the voice of someone who has lived under a secular, democratic and social Republic in Europe, so he speaks not from legends or fear based myths, but from real life experience. Corporate America has been misinforming us about the evils of social safety nets; but voices like Gilbert’s help us reframe the political debate in terms of equality rather than fear.
When Gilbert speaks of universal healthcare, he knows what he’s talking about because he has lived it. He told me today that he often regrets calling 911 in America; he feels at times that it might have been better if he had died rather than face financial destitution over something he had no control over. This is the conservative American idea of “liberty”.
Gilbert may have to move home to France in order to get the medical care he needs. If Gilbert moves back to France, our country loses an important political voice. So much for equality and fraternity.
In the “conservative republic” of America, only the super rich can afford to get sick or old. Every day in America, the GOP healthcare hunger games are killing Americans for corporate profit under the ruse of “free market” liberty. Conservative justices are debating the constitutionality of the individual mandate, while ignoring the constitutionality of allowing corporations to impose very real death panels on the people. These same people value the life of a fetus so much that they grant it rights over the human female carrier, but once the fetus has a sustainable life outside of the womb, all bets are off.
Only the lucky survive.
Donations may be made to Gilbert Mercier’s medical recovery here.
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Image: Seaside Post Online