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Well the United States scares me too, particularly when I read things like this.

Private insurance companies participating in Medicare have been allowed to keep tens of millions of dollars that should have gone to consumers, and the Bush administration did not properly audit the companies or try to recover money paid in error, Congressional investigators say in a new report.

And then in another newspaper this.

When Napan Hank LeMieux recently phoned the Social Security Administration for assistance with his costly prescription medications, he said, they suggested the 70-year-old diabetic return to work full-time to pay for them himself.

You've got to feel scared and deeply demoralized when you receive emails which describe the searing realities confronting ordinary Americans. The email I received a while back, which is the subject of this diary, did not come from a Kossack. I know this much, because Kossacks always identify themselves.

Like so many before, and so many which will follow, it came from another desperate American citizen ready to give up. Mine was a virtual shoulder for this person to lean on.

Then I read about Hank LeMieux and I thought this is the face of my nameless email.

I suppose the email came from someone we'd call a lurker. It came from an American citizen who happens to read Daily Kos. A citizen some in our country would like to think doesn't exist. But this citizen does exist as do tens of millions just like him.

Here's one. Let's put a face, a name and a body on our immense national tragedy. His name is Hank LeMieux and he is an American citizen.

LeMieux is one of tens of millions of Americans with Medicare or Medicaid coverage. Many find themselves either unable to find doctors who accept their coverage or struggling to foot the bill for expensive yet necessary prescription medications.

Sadly, the brutal anguish the email articulates, just like the plight of Hank LeMieux, is the primal scream of our nation.

What do you say to someone who sends you an email which ends, "it's not death that scares me, it's our country."

What do you say to a sick person who is resigned to dying but cannot fathom being abandoned while sick by his country?

What do you say to someone who tells you they've led an honorable life. They've worked hard, they've saved, but they didn't count on an illness that would bankrupt them?

What do you say to someone who says, I want to die so my family will not be forced into the street?

What do you say to someone who says, this is not the country I grew up in?

But as we know, his story, and the questions he asks, are far from unique. Even more grotesque, his story is status quo for countless hard-working American citizens. His story is commonplace in the richest country on the planet.

Hank LeMieux, a senior citizen, one of our most vulnerable citizens is the face of our shame.

LeMieux, a cancer survivor, is experiencing what many have dubbed the "doughnut hole," a result of a Medicare Part D provision leading to a break in prescription drug coverage. LeMieux said Medicare temporarily discontinued drug coverage after doling out a total of $2,400 since January. Unless LeMieux shells out approximately $3,000 toward his remaining 2007 prescription costs, he said, Medicare will not resume coverage until next year. In the meantime, LeMieux — who should be taking seven medications — is taking just five.

The emails I receive almost always recount stories of unimaginable suffering. Someday I am sure, we will describe the nation we lived in in 2007 to our grandchildren and they will recoil in disbelief. We will explain that there was a time in the United States when this was routine treatment of our elderly.

"When you’re a man who is 70 years old and worked hard all your life ... it’s hard to make it when you have $860 worth of (monthly) prescriptions," said LeMieux, adding that his physician, Dr. Jonathan Wheeler, recently supplied him with free samples of two medications that he would otherwise not have access to.

I have no doubt, nor should you, that I am not the only person to be in receipt of a steady flow of what I would call screams of pain. Imagine for a moment, the desperate pleas received by the political class. I often find myself wondering how these people sleep at night? Because, in all candor, many nights I lay awake and think about what I have read and say, there but for the grace of God go I.

What does it say about the people we elect to lead govern that they know, yet fail to respond to the manifest indignitites visited upon fellow Americans by our broken healthcare system?  Leaders Politicians who find themselves unable to summon the courage to advocate on behalf of the American people. Leaders Politicians who find themselves unwilling to fight for the radical changes necessary to end the human suffering which has burrowed deep into the heart and soul of the American people?

They sit by while such intense pain occurs in the richest nation on the planet.

Napan Jerry Hazel, 75, a recipient of both Medi-Cal and Medicare, is suffering from advanced tooth decay. Several years ago, Hazel said, he saw a dentist who ordered multiple tooth extractions and dentures. He said he has searched for an oral surgeon in Napa, but is unable to find one who takes Medi-Cal patients. Still unable to receive care, he regularly takes pain medications for his condition. Hazel said he occasionally seeks treatment for recurring gum infections caused by the lack of proper medical attention.

"Others must be going through what I’m going through. I just gave up all hope. Everyone says, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Hazel. There’s nothing I can do for you.’"

Hazel, who must stick to eating only soft foods, said embarrassment of the condition of his teeth often prevents him from interacting with others.

Some of us accept our fate without questioning right and wrong. Some accept all manner of horrors with stoic bravery. Others, like the person who sent the email, ask only for a moment of reflection and ask a simple question.  What, dear Lord, has happened to the country of my birth?

Originally posted to nyceve on Mon Sep 10, 2007 at 06:15 AM PDT.

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