Somewhere in the Guinness Book of World Records the current Congress must appear with the largest number of attempts to repeal a piece of legislation. At last count there were 62 attempts to derail the Affordable Care Act (sometimes called Obamacare). One has to admit opponents in Congress are persistent!
Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, 47 million Americans had no health insurance. Since the passage of that bill there are now 33 million people in the United States, or 10.4% of the population, uninsured. That is in large part because governors in 26 states have rejected the Medicaid expansion. This is in stark contrast to countries in Europe and Canada, where all citizens are provided with health insurance.
Candidates running for President have yet to be asked, “Is health care a right or privilege?” If health care is a right, why are there many obstacles to getting insurance? Instead of the scripted debates, town halls – consisting of people with real problems, asking challenging questions about disappearing safety nets – could inform all those seeking higher office of the obstacles that make it difficult to get out of poverty.
A town hall in Hazard, Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia, would be an appropriate site. Beverly May, a nurse at the Little Flower Free Clinic, has much to share about people who die from lack of health care. She sees patients in imminent danger of heart attacks, or risking blindness and amputation from uncontrolled diabetes. Often patients get to the clinic too late for any effective treatment. “People die,” she says, “They simply die for lack of health care.”
Politician A: “I will keep them in my thoughts and prayers.” This is the same script we use after a mass shooting.
Fifty-five-year old Terry of Breathitt County in Eastern Kentucky has no health insurance and earns $269 a month cleaning homes. Because she has high blood pressure and arthritis she needs prescription drugs. Since she cannot afford prescriptions, she uses Tylenol.
Politician: “Why doesn’t she get a second job? I will keep her in my thoughts and prayers.”
The “Year of Mercy” can focus the mind on the basic survival needs of millions in the US which moves us beyond “thoughts and prayers” to action.