So, we're coming down to it. The shape of health care reform (with or without irony quotes) in America is being debated now. Soon, we'll start to have a clearer idea of what our representatives will be voting on, what the President will ultimately be signing.
After a few days of trying to find the time to put my thoughts about this situation in order, I was finally able to sit down and write a letter to the President expressing my thoughts about the health care debate. I don't normally write letters to the White House or to Congress. I worked in DC for a while, and I saw box after box of constituent mail left unread, phone call after phone call reduced to a tick mark on a spreadsheet, email ignored. So, I'm cynical.
But this is personal, not only for me but for you. This issue touches on the most uncomfortable, the most intimate, and the most difficult issues in all of our lives, whether we're talking about getting a butt exam or sweating over a bill with more than one comma. So, despite my cynicism, I sucked it up and hammered out a letter. Maybe it won't be read. Maybe it'll tip the debate. I don't know, but I've said my piece.
I will have one intermediate comment, but otherwise I'll let the letter speak for itself. Also, I might snip out one or two personal facts, but the letter will be substantially the same as what I sent today. So, here goes. *clears throat...
I am writing regarding the current health care debate. I would like to express my strongest encouragement that you back a robust public option.
This is, in my opinion, the most important part of a constituent letter like this. Sum up the issue and your position as concisely as possible, right at the start. That way if a haggard clerk reads just this paragraph, you'll be put in the right pile.
Mr. President, I have excellent health care. I am an attorney with a good firm in Atlanta, and I am lucky enough to have insurance coverage that is, generally speaking, inexpensive and comprehensive. I am single and I have no children. It is unlikely that I would enroll in a public option if one were available because my private plan covers me adequately.
My sister, on the other hand, has no health coverage. She has two children and her husband is unemployed because of the current construction downturn. She lives in wrenching fear that something will happen to her children, her husband, or to her and she won't be able to pay for needed health care. If something does happen, my family will pull together and do whatever needs to be done to make sure she is covered, but not all families are so lucky.
Mr. President, you referred in one of your speeches to doing health care reform according to American traditions. I applaud that, because this is a great country. We can do anything we put our minds and hearts into. But we also have a tradition of bringing in the best of the rest of the world and making our country stronger for it.
I have lived in a country with a robust public option. My mother lived in New Zealand for much of my childhood and teenage years. When I was 20, my mother had what she thought was a stroke. She was paralyzed on her left side. Her speaking was slurred, but her mind was still sharp. She was taken to a public hospital, checked in, and found to be suffering from an aggressive brain tumor. I flew to New Zealand, and we stayed with my mother as she went through consultations and treatments. She had a private hospital room for several months. She had exceptional treatment from doctors and nurses who fought as hard as they possibly could for her and for us. I never, ever felt like my mother was receiving anything but the best care.
My mother died from her cancer. It was simply too advanced for treatment. But, Mr. President, during the whole ordeal, through all of the exceptional care given to my mother, there was never a moment when we worried about how to pay for it all, not because of private insurance (which is an option in New Zealand) but because of public care.
I've thought about what might have happened if Mom had gotten sick in the US. Her husband was a farmer, she was a painter. I doubt they would have had quality health insurance. Would my mother have died before she could say goodbye because she couldn't pay for care? Would my family have been able to pay for plane tickets if we'd been scrounging every penny for bills? Would we have been saddled with crushing debt after Mom died?
Please, Mr. President, recognize that we are a great country with great traditions, but we can borrow ideas that work from others and make them even better. Please give other Americans the same opportunity I had in another country. Please do something to remove the financial horror of crushing medical bills.
Let's embrace the proudest American tradition: neighbor looking after neighbor. Please pressure Congress to enact comprehensive health care reform with a strong public option. It won't be easy, it won't be safe, but it will be the right thing.
It's not the best letter I've ever written. The style of the "what if" paragraph makes me cringe. But, unfortunately, every concern I raise is warranted.
Mainly, though, I've tried to strip this down to the essentials. Minus all the rhetoric and posturing, minus all the language and charts and grandstanding, this is about life and death. Let me say this again: this is about life and death. If we continue the way we are going, people will die unnecessarily in a country that could easily pay for their care. People will suffer, whether illness or financial hardship, in a country that could lessen their suffering with relative ease. Hell, I wouldn't mind a completely government-run system, but I just don't think that's possible. And if my taxes have to go up to pay for it, it's worth it.
Thanks for reading. Please go fight. Justice demands it.
Edit I: The Phantom Edit: Please add your own letters in the comments. Some folks might be looking for ideas for how to get a letter started.
Edit II: Attack of the Moans: I knew I should've put something about boobies in the title and posted a picture of Newt and
Edit III: Revenge of the Pith: Crap, I knew I'd forget my best line. "Americans all over this country have stories like this. But too many of them end badly. Mr. President, let's do something to make these stories something we tell about a dark, sad past."