Monday, January 18, 2010


"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

Martin Luther king -- who knew something about inequality and injustice -- knew that allowing people who are sick to go untreated and uncared for is about as callous as America can be. And if you think things have changed a lot since his death, you're only right if you think they've changed for the worst.

It you haven't read our book, It's Too Hard To Be Sick in America, give it a glance and see just how tragic life is for people who did nothing to deserve it other than to get sick. Answering the phones here at Advocacy for Patients gets harder and harder because what people need -- money -- is the one thing we don't have to give. People are telling me they lost their job and their insurance and their home, and some are living in cars. This isn't a cute rags-to-riches story told by Jewel about her childhood. These are real stories happening today. I can't imagine having to live in the street. Doing so without ready access to a bathroom is truly unimaginable. And yet, there but for the grace of whomever go I.

Dr. King had it right. There is nothing more shocking or inhumane than leaving children to die because they can't get health care; leaving a woman in Tennessee to be discharged from the hospital despite the fact that she can't keep down any food because she doesn't have insurance; leaving a cancer patient untreated because the only treatment that hasn't been tried is FDA approved for one cancer but not for the one that is killing her.

Last week, I gave an interview to a reporter who asked a lot about how I feel about what I do. "It sounds like insurers are getting away with murder." Yes, literally. And I suspect that will get worse with so-called reform; health insurers will make up for less in premiums by denying coverage more often.

My heart breaks over the calls I get from people who simply have no way to pay their rent. I can find them a free clinic, although free clinics typically staff only primary physicians rather than specialists, and they often don't cover labs and scopes and other diagnostics. I can find them free prescription drugs. I can even find free ostomy supplies and tube feeding supplies. But I can't find money to pay the rent. It simply isn't there.

I deeply support the work being done in Haiti. I've donated and I hope all of you have, as well. But when that crisis passes -- if it ever does -- I think we should be taking up a collection to pay for health care in America for people who have no options. Need there be photos of people lying dead in the streets of Iowa before Hollywood holds a telethon?

This is an emergency. Pure and simple. It's tragic. People are dying in America every day simply because they don't have access to health care. But because it is invisible to most of us, we do nothing about it.

So on MLK Day, I think of the "most shocking and inhumane" and know that, as long as this tragedy happens in private, Americans won't know and, thus, won't help. We have to find a way to show the elite of America -- Hollywood and Wall Street -- that there is desperate need here, as well. Jennifer

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