01 June 2007

Colorado woman's cameo in Sicko

Donna Smith, a journalist faced with crippling healthcare costs despite being insured, was one of eight Americans who traveled with Michael Moore to Cuba in March for treatment there. Moore filmed the trip for his documentary Sicko, which opens later this month. Donna writes movingly about the experience at Huffington Post and at Healthcare Now.

At Moore's site, there's this introduction to Smith in an AP story about the recent New York screening of Sicko. "Donna Smith, in from Denver with her husband, Larry, was in tears when she spoke. The film opens with their painful story: Plagued with health problems, they were forced to sell their home and move into the storage room of their daughter's house because they couldn't cope with health costs, even though they were insured.

"'Health care is an embarrassment to our nation,' Donna told Moore. 'You give dignity to every American in this film.'"

At the heart of Donna's story is the psychic trauma that our healthcare system inflicts on people like her — people, she says, "who play by the rules" (she's always had health insurance) but are still victimized by our system. From the Healthcare Now piece:
As I walked to where I would stay in the hospital [in Cuba] for my evaluation, I felt something deeply painful beginning to surface. I felt my gut tighten and even a stab of pain in my chest as I flashed over all the incidents of the past 20 years when I struggled to get health care and when I was made to feel disgusting. My brain swirled with images of payment plans (some signed literally at surgical bedside), applications for community benefits, rising health insurance deductions, angry health providers dunning us for small balances not covered by insurance (though many had been paid thousands already), and countless other humiliations in spite of the fact that I had never allowed my family to go without health insurance...

Over the next few days, I began to absorb the healing power of this form of medicine. Just the knowledge that each human being is valuable, that each life is sacred and worthy, began to heal so much of the sickness of my spirit that also caused some of the sickness of my body. And so my journey into a new life was started. For perhaps the first time in my life, I felt that my Creator had given a glimpse of unconditional love and peace.
Donna is articulate and passionate about this issue — she knows first hand that our system is so unjust that it's fair to call it barbaric. It certainly has no relationship to the Christianity that Americans think of as guiding this country.

I always find myself admiring people like Donna for sticking with their faith despite the evidence arrayed against it — mostly evidence about how miserably most individual "Christians" and "Christian nations" fail to live up to their ideals. She's right there with Bill Moyers in terms of being a better example of what a Christian should be.

Donna's bout with cancer together with her husband's many medical problems forced the two to leave South Dakota, where she had edited a small daily newspaper. She's in suburban Denver now, still struggling with healthcare costs — although in better shape than she had been before Cuba.

I spoke with her tonight, and she says that she arrived in Cuba on nine medications, and left on only four — and feeling much better.

One of the meds she's still dependent on is an asthma inhaler costing $175 — each. Her insurance will pay for it — after she spends enough to cover her deductible. The Smiths' real worries, however, are regarding her husband, Larry, who was too ill to travel safely to Cuba. Donna said that her sense that it should have been Larry there getting treatment was the hard part of her trip to Cuba.

And Moore's fact-checkers. They were tough to take as well. Contrary to mainstream media's depiction of Moore being more interested in telling a good story than he is in sticking to the facts, Donna said that his staff was relentless when it came to insisting on documentation for everything that she and Larry told them about their story.

I'm sorry that the Smiths have had their lives turned upside down by the idiocies of our system. I'm thankful that she's taking this experience and speaking out to make the world a better place. "God gave us brains so we could use them," she told me tonight.

Hope so.

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