Earlier this year my sister sent me a note saying that certain members of the family – mostly the younger ones – thought I was sounding very left because I was promoting universal health care and was disappointed that Obama hadn’t fought harder for it. Below is my letter to her. I asked her to forward it to those critical individuals to see if they wouldn’t try looking at the situation in a different light. The names here are of family members.
Dear Sue -
If you didn't have Medicare and/or Medicaid, would you have been able to have your complicated back surgery? Or your knee-replacement surgery? Without Medicare, would Carl have received the treatment he's now getting for the accidental loss of his two fingers? Or for his recent knee and hip surgery? Or for his various other physical problems?
If brother Dick didn't have Medicare or the VA, would he be receiving treatment for his many health problems, such as the two stents he received last year or his more recent gum surgery for cancer? Without doubt, that surgery saved his life. The same holds true for Gloria, who has been bed-ridden for years. She has received constant care and has been able to get all necessary medications thanks to Medicare, something Mom and Dad railed against for years, calling Harry Truman and John Kennedy socialists and Lyndon Johnson a Marxist. Remember that?
If cousin Frazer didn't have access to a government hospital, don't you think he would have died of a heart condition? If he didn't have a VA plan, would he have been able to afford his three hip replacements? Or the two stents he just received?
If I didn't have Medicare covering the expense of eight weeks of chemotherapy I would have died of leukemia several years ago. Furthermore, if it wasn't for Medicare I would not have had heart surgery eight years ago.
If my Monterey friend Mike Cohen had Medicare, he would not have died of leukemia at the age of 50. There was no such lifesaving program in 1964, and he retreated, staying in bed where he spent three months withering away, selling everything he had to pay doctors for treatment. When he had no more money, all treatment ended. Dr. Joe Turner and Dr. Fred Frye don't work for nothing, you know. So Mike died.
When I was in Madison at the university, I lived with Grandma Smithback before Medicare and Medicaid. When Grandpa became ill we called an ambulance to take him to St. Mary's Hospital. He was there for some days -- a week, I think -- after being operated on. We brought him home, and within two months he developed peritonitis. His belly swelled the size of a huge watermelon and grew hard as a rock. He was in terrible pain. Grandma took me from his bedside into the front room and said, I have no more money, I spent every penny I had on ambulances and his surgery and his stay in the hospital. I have nothing now, absolutely nothing. No income, and only this house. If I have to sell it, I will have nowhere to live. He's 83 years old, she said. Please, please tell me what to do?
I couldn't answer her question because it wasn't mine to answer. She chose to let him die that night because she could not afford to let him live -- and she felt absolutely miserable the rest of her days because she never stopped wondering if she had done the right thing.
In contrast, when I had my heart attack while living in England, a doctor driving in his car nearby heard the 911 call on his emergency radio. In his own car, mind you. He was at the house in 5 minutes, bounding up the stairs two steps at a time and administering to me in less than 10 minutes from the time Ching Yee called. The doctor had already put in a call for an ambulance, and it arrived within fifteen minutes of her call. I was taken to the hospital, was immediately treated, and spent the next 6 days in Intensive Care. Afterward, I was moved to a ward for three days to be kept under observation. When I was discharged, I was driven home in a hospital limousine. During the next ten days I received two home visits from our family doctor, and a day or so later we got a home visit from a nurse who decided I didn't need home nursing because Ching Yee is a SRN (State Registered Nurse). Once a week a pharmacy delivery came directly to the door with medications that our doctor had ordered. I didn't lift a finger to dial the pharmacy to order them. The doctor did it all. Also, a dietician came to help us plan our meals properly, and from her we learned a great deal. At the same time, I was automatically enrolled in a six-week aerobics program at the Warwickshire General Hospital where I went three days a week to participate in after-care exercise for cardiac patients.
The total cost to me, Sue? Zero. Nothing. Nada. Not one red, white and blue cent.
Because in every advanced nation in the world -- EXCEPT the United States -- people matter more than banks and bankers and the pharmaceutical industry -- and, if you can believe this, even more than politicians. One day when I am long gone and your son David needs a stent , or your daughter Dawn needs a heart bypass or a hip replacement, or when one of their children requires intensive medical treatment, I hope --for their sake, and for the sake of everyone alive -- that they do not have to turn to someone and, with tears in their eyes, ask if they must sell their home and everything in it in order to save the life of someone they love.
That's not politics, Sue. That's what's called being human!