There was a free health clinic recently held in Los Angeles. Dr Mehmet Oz was one of the volunteer doctors, and he's written a particularly scathing and brutal article in Time magazine about what he witnessed. It's appropriately entitled, Enough is Enough.
I've been to many free clinics around the country, and to participate is both an honor and a life changing experience, even for a clinician, like Dr. Oz, who's undoubtedly seen terrible things in his medical career.
It's life changing because though you think you may understand in some intellectual sense, how bad things are for 50 million Americans unable to access basic healthcare, to see,and feel and touch people who are walking around with terrible disease, and in physical pain, is to enter a terrible and depraved world that should not exist in our country. But it does. A world within the United States of America, that exists solely because we have a political system, totally owned by special interests and controlled by Wall Street.
Because we live in a country where healthcare is rationed by the ability to pay, and for-profit health insurers buy access to lawmakers who vote to maintain the awful status quo. The rich live, the poor and middle class die, or delay much needed care, simply because of cost and because healthcare in the United States remains a privilege not a right.
The middle class are saddled with health insurance policies requiring impossibly large out-of-pocket payments, deductibles and premiums, which for all intents and purposes, puts healthcare out-of-reach for many. This is our uniquely American way of rationing care.
The smell was unmistakable. I recognized it immediately – a fungating infection. It’s what happens when a cancer breaks through the skin and the puss oozes out and aerosolizes, producing an unsurprisingly foul odor. This is what late-stage cancer looks like if left unchecked, like many cancers were 100 years ago and still are today in the developing world. But I encountered this case this month, and Yvonne, the woman who sat crying before me, lives in Los Angeles. She lost her job two years ago, and when her insurance expired, she was too ashamed to seek help for a mass she felt in her right breast. Now the tumor had replaced her entire breast and blasted through the skin. Being cared for now — so late in her illness — was surely not what she would have wanted; and just as surely, it could have been avoided. How did we let this happen in America?
Indeed, how did we let this happen in America? In Los Angeles, in the middle of the largest city in the richest and most morally bankrupt country on the planet.
I've been asking myself this for many, many years. I've been wondering as my health insurance premium skyrockets another 20% this year, how long I will be able to hold on.
I chuckle that Democrats passed a bill called the Affordable care Act, and these same Democrats are perplexed that public support is plummeting as premiums are skyrocketing.
I remind myself after reading the Amicus Curiae brief submitted by AHIP in partial support of certiorari review, (which I urge all of you to read), that we should all heed the warnings of Wendell Potter who tells us the insurers want a mandate with no regulations.
The AHIP brief is urging the Supreme Court to review the severability of the individual mandate from the rest of the ACA on an expedited basis. Take home AHIP message, without a mandate, they're walking. Just as Wendell said, insurers want a mandate and few or no regulations.
Dr. Oz continues his unsparing look at our collapsed system, "But simply having been down this road before does not mean you’re ever fully prepared for it."
Dr. Oz has volunteered at other clinics, and he's correct, you never, ever get used to witnessing the deadly depravity of political indifference. The political class looks the other way as American citizens struggle to get basic health care. The political indifference to our basic human needs has permeated like a malignant cancer into every nook and cranny of this country. No wonder Americans are finally standing up--rising up, and screaming like Dr. Oz, enough is enough!
My radio crackled, and I was called to see David, a 25-year-old overweight Latino man with a blood sugar of 355, far above the tolerable level of 100. He had come to the clinic because of eye problems, a common complication of diabetes, but he had not seen a health care professional as an adult and did not appreciate the classic symptoms of frequent urination, constant thirst and lethargy. I pressed on his gums and pus poured from abscesses cause by the untreated elevated blood sugar. As I walked him to the dental clinic on the floor of the arena, he asked insightful, targeted questions about his condition, a conversation that should not have happened by chance at a free clinic. The simple advice David collected could help him avoid the rusting of his blood vessels and the amputations, kidney failure, strokes and heart attacks that would otherwise define his life and cost the health care system much more than a timely consultation. I witnessed the surreal effect of David’s teeth being treated where pro athletes usually dribble basketballs until a young mother asked me about a problem with her mouth. She had come to the clinic because, while her children had health insurance from the state, she was not covered.
"If enough people start to say enough" And for me (nyceve), this is why we must Occupy wall Street.
Yes, Dr. Oz, finally, at long last, millions of Americans are risking arrest, and worse, injury, and police brutality and saying with one collective roar, "ENOUGH!"
Surgeons like me have to be irrational optimists, so I am going to apply this trait on a grand scale. If enough people start to say enough, we will get somewhere. I love working among the selfless people who staff these free clinics, who show patients that someone cares about them. But every time I finish a day’s work, I silently pray it will be the last one we need. Get to know the Yvonnes and the Davids, and then let your frustration guide us to an America where free clinics are the stuff of history and the simple dignity of the chance to be healthy is the living reality.
I want to end by reminding everyone what my friend and fellow health care warrior Nicole Lamoureux-Busby, Executive Director of the National Association of Free Health Clinics says about the patients who come to the clinics run by the organization she leads.
About 83% of NAFC’s patients come from a working household but cannot afford health insurance. We have had patients who were working multiple jobs but had to choose between the high cost of insurance payments or putting food on the table for their family. While there are patients who lost their jobs in the bad economy and come to our clinics for care, a large majority of our patients are actually underinsured or uninsured, but not unemployed.
Our free and charitable clinics work daily throughout the nation to try and meet the overwhelming needs of the uninsured population. Our clinics do so with little to no state or federal funding but through volunteers and generous donations. It is truly the story of neighbors helping neighbors, hope for the uninsured and volunteerism at its best.