I’ve been thinking about this one-in-six figure which divides
America into who has health care coverage and who doesn’t.
According to a Gallup Poll, 16 percent or one in six Americans over
age 18 do not have health insurance. That number is a product of
the current system, the broken one, the one that grows more
inequitable and expensive the longer we wait to fix it.
It’s a shameful statistic. It means that under the American
health system, one in six can’t get into the lifeboat. One in six
Americans — expendable.
You may not be the unfortunate person out of six, but you
probably know one, especially in these tough times. A friend lost
her consulting job in San Francisco when her position was
eliminated because of funding. The job’s gone and so is her health
insurance. “You’re either part of one statistic or another,” she
My husband has a friend with a prostate problem and no health
insurance. He’s hoping his body waits until he turns 65 and
qualifies for Medicare. I know a woman in her 30s who’s been having
chest pains but says she’ll wait until they get really bad and then
drive herself to the ER.
Members of Congress who are deciding what to do about the
one-in-six problem not only have a seat in the lifeboat, it comes
with their name on a brass plaque. They have their own exclusive
government-run public plan. In relating to the uninsured and
underinsured population, they quite possibly suffer from an empathy
Conservatives pooh-poohed empathy as inappropriate for a Supreme
Court justice. But I think just a little empathy might be useful if
you’re deciding on health coverage for all — including
What if one out of every six members of Congress was suddenly
dropped from the government insurance plan? That would be 89 newly
uninsured people who as members of Congress deciding on the health
care bill, would be thinking about how to pay for their kid’s MRI
and their own sudden heart surgery. Stripped of their government
perk, 89 uninsured members of Congress might be very much in favor
of having a public plan rather than be at the mercy of
profit-minded insurance companies.
They’d have to think like real people, the ones without
insurance and the ones who fear losing it. Including people who
stay with lousy jobs just for the insurance. Who worry about being
laid off and having to shop for individual coverage. Who fear being
denied because they once had a strange mole on their shoulder.
Critics say health care reform is too costly and we need to
worry about the debt our children and grandchildren will face in
the future. Future? The kids are here now. The future is this
afternoon and tomorrow. If those kids don’t have a healthy
beginning they’re not going to grow up and be able to pay anyone’s
California’s new budget includes cutting health insurance for
poor kids. Ten thousand kids in Sonoma County alone are going to
lose medical insurance through the Healthy Families program for
children in low income families, causing one health expert to call
it a public health nightmare. Kids go back to school, flu season
hits, the uninsured kids who before might have been going to their
doctor with symptoms end up in class with the insured kids. Now,
everyone gets sick.
It could be the same for Mr. or Ms. Congress Person squeezed
next to someone on a plane who’s afraid she has swine flu but can’t
afford a doctor.
We all sneeze on each other. There’s your empathy.
Susan Swartz is an author and local journalist. You can also
read her at www.juicytomatoes.com and hear
her Another Voice commentary on KRCB-FM radio on Fridays. Email is
A spoonful of empathy