With both the House and Senate looking to pass health care bills priorto the summer recess which begins August 8, now is the moment of truth forDemocrats: will they offer a real public plan option to compete withprivate plans and drive down costs? Or will they cater to thehealthcare industry which is now spending $1.4 million per day on lobbyists to protect their profits?
Throughout this debate, one Senator who has been willing to tell it likeit is, with the people’s interest at heart, is Bernie Sanders. Thisweek he will publish The Health Care Crisis: Letters from Vermont andAmerica–a collection of healthcare stories sent to him from across the nation.
“In early June we sent out a letter to our email list–and we said twothings,” Sen. Sanders told me in an interview this week. “Number one,please sign a petition calling for a single-payer system; and two, giveus some of your experiences with the private health insurance and yourexperience in terms of health care in general. Well, in a few weeks, wegot 40,000 signatures on a single-payer petition. But, as important, wereceived well over 4,000 responses–from Vermont and all over the country–people telling us what’sgoing on in their lives with regard to healthcare.”
These stories remind us of the powerful, personal experiences that toooften get lost in the abstract and arcane arguments over healthcarereform. I spoke with the Senator about these stories and the battle forreal reform as it enters the stretch run. Here is our conversation, andsome excerpts from the healthcare stories as well:
Sen. Sanders: If you read the responses–they’re justunbelievable. It really makes you believe that in this area [of healthcare] you’re living in a Third World country. You know, people dyingbecause they don’t have access to healthcare. People getting muchsicker than they should have because they can’t find a doctor. Peoplegoing bankrupt. I mean, all of the stories we read about but it reallyis mind-blowing just to read it in the words straight from people’smouths. It’s very emotional, I think it’s a good piece.
Q: It sounds similar in impact to the other booklet you did lastyear–The Collapse of the Middle Class.
Sen. Sanders: Exactly. And that’s what we have to continuedoing. I think it’s important to hear what’s going on in people’slives, and with regard to healthcare–this is an issue of life anddeath, where people are describing friends of theirs dying because theydidn’t have access to a doctor. It’s very traumatic.
Excerpt from The Health Care Crisis: “My younger brother, a combatdecorated veteran of the Vietnam conflict, died three weeks after beingdiagnosed with colon cancer. He was laid off from his job and could notafford COBRA coverage. When he was in enough pain to see a doctor, itwas too late. He left a wife and two teenage sons in the prime of hislife at 50 years old. The attending doctor said that if he had onlysought treatment earlier he would still be alive.” —Jim,Swanton, VT