Hearings start today before the U.S. Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act. Round and round and round the political ball goes while millions of Americans continue to be unable to afford or have access to “affordable care.” Stay tuned and watch as the drama from the Supreme Court plays out. Meanwhile, the American people are moving forward to seek a health care system that works for them.
I spent another “unseasonably” warm day here in Minnesota sitting inside a packed room in St. Paul for a scheduled meeting to discuss how my state will set up its Health Exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act. Minnesotans are moving forward – Supreme Court decision or not.
Hats off to TakeAction Minnesota and several other sponsoring groups for all the organizing they did to put hundreds of citizens in a room ready, willing and able to voice their concerns and hopes for how the Exchange will work. State Commissioner of Commerce Mike Rothman was on hand to listen and answer questions after a panel of five women poignantly told their horror stories of trying to get access to affordable care in Minnesota.
As I sat and listened to these stories my heart ached. I thought my own personal story of having a breast cancer diagnosis and no longer being able to afford private health insurance (after I had depleted my savings trying to pay for an individual policy that had reached more than $700/month with a $5,000 deducible) was bad. But each of these courageous women made mine pale in comparison.
And each personal story linked back to the need for a “people centric” Health Exchange to be established. These women argued passionately for keeping insurance brokers out of the role of “navigator” within these Exchanges. The underscored the need for insurance companies to be left off the design of the Exchanges. This was best articulated by a young mother who works nine months out of the year as an educational assistant in a charter school. She is a non-salaried employee and cannot afford the employer-based insurance offered. She culminated her story by saying, “I’ve tried the insurance dominated market place and it’s bankrupted me. I owe $40,000 in medical debt.”
Mostly I wanted to stand up and say: “Stop! No more stories. No more reports.” Our health care system is so past broken and we all know it.
My second thought centered more on all of these good, well-intentioned people who were at this meeting (including Commissioner Rothman) trying desperately to make this still very inadequate improvement of Health Exchanges somehow work. I don’t believe there was a person in that room who didn’t want a public option or who didn’t understand the need for a public option to our current health care crisis. Instead, we’ve all been handed “Health Exchanges.” It was as though these people acknowledged they’ve been given a squirt gun to fight a raging fire and have said, “Ok, that’s all you’re giving us to fight the fire? All we’re asking is please don’t give us a squirt gun that leaks.”
These good, hard working people will struggle to make the best of an imperfect situation as their commitment to bring health care to the more than 300,000 uninsured or underinsured Minnesotans will not be deterred.
Will the Supreme Court overturn the individual mandate? As I said, stay tuned. But one thing I believe is this: If the individual mandate is overturned, the people will not sit idly by and wait for corporate America to offer them another imperfect solution to this crisis. The sense I have after witnessing the Occupy Movement last fall is that if we cannot even take one baby step forward to bring the U.S. healthcare system to where it needs to be, watch out. The people will no longer tolerate a for-profit health care system.
I saw it first hand Sunday. The people want change to healthcare and they are beginning to understand the power they have to make a difference, perhaps in large part to the Occupy Movement. There’s an old saying, “Change happens when the pain is bad enough.” The pain, literally and figuratively, inflected on people by our for-profit health care system has reached the point where change will happen.
Go ahead Supreme Court…make your ruling. Whatever it is, don’t expect the people to be silent much longer on the need for a public option to our public health crisis.