24 May 2007

Rationing care

I heard a story yesterday that renews my belief that so many Americans have been affected by the slow-motion disaster of our current healthcare system that we will be able to change it.

I was at the Denver Conference on Homelessness, handing out brochures and talking with people about single-payer financed healthcare. I was with a sharp, intelligent and lively Health Care for All Colorado volunteer, Ruth Gilbert. It was Ruth's 84th birthday.

We heard about homelessness from the people with whom we shared a lunch table, and we told them about the need for universal healthcare. As if they didn't know.

One of the women at the table had lived in Britain for a time. She spoke with awe and respect for their system.

Another women at the table then spoke up. She said her 30-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease — cancer that starts in the lymphatic tissue. The ill daughter missed a lot of work during the course of her treatment and lost her job.

When the daughter lost her job, she lost her insurance. And here her mother stumbled a bit in the telling — her family had been under a lot of stress with the illness, and they hadn't managed to do what, perhaps, might have been done so that the ill woman's coverage could have continued. Perhaps.

So should that be a death sentence? Add into your consideration the fact that the daughter has three children. She completed her chemo, but not her radiation.

We are the wealthiest country in the world. Should this woman's children be motherless because their mother cannot pay for cancer treatment? Should scrambling for a way to pay for treatment, should the humiliation of losing her job and not being able to pay, should potential bankruptcy — hell, potential homelessness — be a part of her reality now? How might that stress be affecting her chances for survival?

How is depending on charity in a situation like this, rather than according this woman and her family the dignity of healthcare justice, a conservative or American value?

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