Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A State of Denial

This Sunday, 60 Minutes presented a story that they originally did back in March titled US Health Care Gets Boost from Charity. For me, it was one of the most memorable and touching stories in the many years of 60 Minutes stories and it affected me no less on the second viewing.

I must admit I had a number of powerfully conflicting emotions while watching this piece. On one hand I was moved to tears to see the seemingly endless line of people needing medical, dental or vision care attention — some of them in obvious pain but not being able to afford care because of either inadequate health insurance or none at all. And then you see the massive amounts of medical equipment being brought in along with a group of doctors and dentists who volunteered their weekends before going back to their regular jobs the following Monday.

But what was the most gut-wrenching was to see the people who because of the limited time and manpower for the volunteers to do their work, had to be turned away at the end of the day on Sunday. Even so, I felt so good about
Remote Area Medical (RAM), its founder, Stan Brock and the tireless volunteers that I just wanted to give them all a hug if I could only do it through the TV screen.

But the other strong emotion I felt was anger. Anger at the people still in denial about the suffering of so many people like Joanne Ford.

Late Sunday, Joanne Ford's number was among the last. (Correspondent Scott) Pelley found her sitting by a stairwell. She's retired, living on disability with no insurance, and her glasses don't work anymore. She got in only to find out the vision care line had closed.

Asked what she was going to do, Ford told Pelley, "I don't know. I have a lot of friends and I have a lot of church support. I was very active in my church and I have a lot of friends in church. I just hate to ask. I've worked all my life. I hate to ask. That's why things like this are so wonderful."

"There is no shame in seeking healthcare," Pelley remarked.

"No. You're right. You know...I am sad that we are the wealthiest nation in the world, and we don't take care of our own. So. But it will be okay," she said. And it did turn out okay after all. Someone at RAM noticed Ford's situation. They put her in the vision care line and examined her for a new pair of glasses.

But at the gate, many were waiting when the weekend ended.

One of the noblest parts of the political process (when it works) is the ability of either a couple of individuals or groups to work out a way together to solve problems. They often do not share political philosophies. They may not even like each other. But if they can at least agree that a problem needs to be solved, they can likely find a way to compromise and get the problem solved.

But when one side sees a problem and the other side is in denial about the problem, there is no middle ground for compromise. And that’s an even bigger problem because two sides that are deadlocked cannot accomplish much of anything outside of pointing fingers at each other.

I commented on the US health care problem — and it is a problem — in a previous posting
Why Not Medicare for Everybody?. But what I find so frustrating is not people who just disagree with my proposed solutions but people who are in denial that there really is a problem.

For example, there is the argument often made that the 47 million uninsured in the US is a “phony” number because some people choose not to have health insurance and others are only temporarily without insurance. So maybe this number is somewhat inflated. But there is no denying that there are tens of millions of people in the US without health insurance. And
people die because of this. What part of that isn’t a problem?

And then there is the argument that getting government involved with health insurance puts us on the path to socialized medicine. But I then ask people making this argument, How do we make affordable health insurance available to those with pre-existing conditions the private health insurers don’t even want to touch? Usually, they have no idea how to answer this. It’s one thing not to like my proposed solutions. But for those who not only don’t have a better solution but haven’t even looked for one, isn’t that just another form of denial?

And a word about charity especially since that was the lead-in subject. Charity is obviously a wonderful thing as the 60 Minutes story shows. But it is very much a hit or miss proposition especially for rural areas that are remote from many of the social resources which are usually based in urban areas.

More than just health care has been a casualty of denial in this country. For years there has been much denial by the political right about the poor state of the US economy until things got so bad, they just had to change their tune to avoid looking like total fools. But that is a subject for another day. And while I do not agree with his proposed solutions, it is still encouraging that presidential candidate John McCain in his positions on
health care and the economy at least abandons the denial his party has had about these issues for so long. Unfortunately, he forgot to get the message in time to his top economic adviser Phil Gramm before he went on his latest denial rant to pander to the conservative Washington Times.

Especially for those of you who haven’t seen the 60 Minutes story, please open
this link where you can not only get the transcript but better yet, if you have access to a high-speed Internet connection either at home or at a library or a friend’s house, you can watch the video of the story on your computer. And then you can make up your own mind whether the subjects of the story are just a bunch of whiners — or represent an urgent problem we need to solve!

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