Grief, Pragmatism, and Warnings: My letter to the President

Although I've been promising to do a follow-up post to my post on Spong (and I will!), my dear friend Jane at Acts of Hope has challenged us all to DO SOMETHING about healthcare reform. Today she challenged us to write to President Obama.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am still grieving the death of my friend, Terri-Lynn. Her death has turned me into a stark, raving maniac on the subject of healthcare reform. I always supported a single-payer system, as far back as President Clinton's push for healthcare reform. I have said many times that I thought Clinton made a major mistake by not starting out demanding a single-payer plan---by starting in the mushy middle, he gave away the store before the debate even got started. And that meant he--and more important, WE--got nothing.

President Obama, it seems, did not learn from that debacle. He keeps telling everyone he is a pragmatist---and I believe he thinks he is. But a REAL pragmatist would know that you start out asking for pie-in-the-sky, with the hope of getting something in the middle. A REAL pragmatist would have figured out by now that Republicans are not interested in creating a bigger safety net---and that the raving lunatics at these "town-hall meetings" will never be won over by a centrist Black man who they believe is not even an American.

It is not pragmatic to argue with crazy people. It is not pragmatic to give those who are deeply in the pockets of the insurance companies and Big Pharma the ability to control the debate or veto your proposals.

It is not pragmatic to abandon your base.

So I used this link to write to the President, and here is what I said:

Dear Mr. President:

On May 25, 2009, my friend, Terri-Lynn, died of cancer. TL was 50--a self-employed, single mother of a 10-year-old son with a chronic health condition. When TL started having symptoms 5 years ago, she didn't go to the doctor because she didn't have health insurance and didn't think she could afford to see a physician. By the time they found her colon cancer, it was too far gone. She spent the last couple of years of her life not only dealing with cancer but worried about how to pay the rent and feed her son. It was sickening, and totally unacceptable in a country that bills itself as the "leader of the free world."

TL died because we privilege profits over people's lives. If we had had a REAL public option for healthcare 5 years ago, I have no doubt she would still be alive. Her son would not be motherless and those of us who loved her would not be grieving.

But we are grieving not only her death---but your failure to lead on this issue. I knocked on doors for your campaign--as did my 12-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. We believed you when you said you would support a single-payer healthcare system. We believed you when you said you would be a leader for change.

But now every time I read the news, I hear that you have dropped even a public option---never mind a single-payer plan. Every time I read that, it's like hearing the news that TL died all over again.

Your desire for bipartisanship is admirable--but it should be clear to you by now that it will never happen. It is time you listened to those of us who are begging you for help and LEAD. How many more Terri-Lynns have to die before you find the courage to do what you promised us you would do when we worked to get you elected?

I want a single-payer system like the one my mother, who married a British citizen 6 years ago, has under the National Health Service in the UK. But barring that, I want a REAL public option for healthcare in this country. Anything less will be no reform at all. Anything less will continue to leave the power in the hands of insurance companies and Big Pharma---and that will mean more Terri-Lynns. That is not acceptable, Mr. President. We believed you. Please don't let us down.


Maybe you don't support a single-payer plan, or even a public option. You think the government can't do anything right, and--anyway--you don't want your "hard-earned dollars" going to pay for healthcare for "deadbeats" who can't afford health insurance.

You go right ahead believing that you are somehow different from the Terri-Lynns of the world. You go right on believing that your hard work and your job-related insurance will protect you from what happened to her. You go right on believing that she just didn't work as hard as you, or "live right" the way you have. You go right on believing that your insurance company will take better care of you than "government bureaucrats," even though the former has a financial incentive to deny you coverage while the latter doesn't.

But please, when it all comes crashing down---when your little girl gets a brain tumor or your spouse has kidney failure or you develop a life-threatening illness and your insurance company refuses to pay for the treatment you or your loved one needs--please don't tell me "But I didn't KNOW!!!!!"

When your health insurance premiums rise 50% next year after the defeat of healthcare reform, because the health insurance companies know they own Congress--or all of a sudden you lose your job because your spouse has cancer and your company can't afford to carry you anymore because the insurance company has slapped a $1M premium on them because of that---please don't tell me "But I didn't know they could do that!!!"

Because you have been told. You have been warned. Terri-Lynn, and those like her, are simply the canaries in the coal mine. If you can't be moved to support healthcare reform from simple human decency, you should be moved to support it from pragmatism.

Because you're next--and the President, "pragmatist" that he is, needs to know it and be a leader.