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Allison Kilkenny: While Congress Dallies, Desperate Americans Seek Free Healthcare

July 18th, 2009, 07:07 pm admin Leave a comment Go to comments

Yesterday, a group of six centrist and conservative Senators signed a letter to the Democratic and Republican leaders urging delay in consideration of health care reform. These moderates include Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Independent Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Susan Collins (R-ME).

The day before these Senators signed a letter to effectively halt healthcare reform, citizens were just beginning to line up at Cocke County High School in East Tennessee for free healthcare provided by Remote Area Medical (RAM), a non-profit, volunteer relief corps dedicated to providing free health care, dental care, eye care, veterinary services, and technical and educational assistance to people in remote areas of the United States and the world.

Though registration would not officially start until Friday, and the doors would not open until Saturday, pre-registration had already filled up by Thursday, and the sessions were full (with a waiting list) before the clinic was ready to see patients.

This kind of turn-out isn’t unusual, Stan Brock, the founder of RAM told me by phone on his way to the high school.

We’re probably going to see people in the 700-800 range, which for us is a small turnout. At our larger clinics, we’ll give out 1500 numbers to patients during the course of the night because they come and they wait all night for these services. At the end of a weekend, we will have seen several thousand people. We’ve got one coming up in Los Angeles in eight days, and my guess if that there we’ll probably see many thousands of people by the time we’re finished there.

Rose Centers was already in line by noon on Friday. “The last time I tried to go to the dentist, it cost me $300, and all they done is a cleaning and X-rays,” she told WBIR.com. In America, where 62 percent of personal bankruptcies are linked to medical bills or illness, this kind of early turnout at Cocke County High School shouldn’t surprise anyone. Many Americans are poor, desperate, sick, and in need of some human compassion. Brock’s team doesn’t think their need should be exploited for financial gain.

As the engine of their medical van rumbles in the background, Brock shares some statistics with me. “You know, the World Health Organization rates the United States on the scale of 190 nations in their delivery of healthcare to the citizenry as number thirty-seven.” He then explains the history of the Great Britain (his native country) universal healthcare system. At the height of World War II, the population in Great Britain was around 49 million when Winston Churchill mandated universal healthcare coverage. “So when you think that 49 million people is about the number of people in [America] that don’t have access to healthcare, it’s roughly equivalent to the population of Great Britain at the end of World War II,” says Brock.

He means it’s a problem that has a solution. If Great Britain, which had been practically obliterated by German bombing (including 57 consecutive nights of air assault during The Blitz,) provided healthcare to every man, woman, and child, then surely America, a comparatively prosperous nation, could improve its own system.

Those politicians toying with the idea of a public-private hybrid model for healthcare reform should understand that the private sector’s prices inflation have made doctor visits unaffordable even to some people who have insurance. Brock told WBIR, “Now we are getting people who do have insurance and do have jobs but simply the co-pay perhaps prevents them from getting the services that they need, but they find they can’t afford it.”

But RAM doesn’t have the widespread reach of a universal healthcare program. They can only do so much. “The sad part is,” Brock tells WBIR, “that we can’t see everybody, so on Sunday evening it’s going to be our sad problem to tell people ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t see any more.’”

Remote Area Medical is in constant need of volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering, visit their webpage here.

Cross-posted from Allison Kilkenny’s blog. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.

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