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By Jose Rodriguez

Man, I wish I were Rob Miller, a Democrat who is challenging South Carolina’s Republican Representative Joe Wilson in 2010. Since President Obama’s speech last night, Miller has raised $200,000 from 5,000 donors. Wilson has even provided Congress a rare moment of unity– both sides of the aisle have denounced Wilson’s rude outburst. Senator John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 Presidential contender, was on Larry King last night and called Wilson’s comment “totally disrespectful” and said he should apologize. House Minority Leader John Boehner said in an interview that “his behavior was inappropriate.” There is also speculation that Boehner and the Minority Whip Eric Cantor want Wilson to apologize on the House floor. I’m not even going to bother quoting Democrats, who were naturally demanding an apology.

Wilson has since apologized, though his apology was insincere and forced. President Obama has also accepted the apology and has urged the people to move on beyond the bickering.

But what did Wilson say that has earned him the scorn of sensible people?

President Obama refuted the false assertion that the Health Care reform bill would cover illegal immigrants. Well, that was simply too much truthiness for Rep. Wilson, who could not contain his disdain for facts: “You lie!”

Thank you, South Carolina for providing us with more political absurdity!

The media has been covering this outburst, and his subsequent apology, but they have not really analyzed the substance of his ridiculous remark. The bottom line is that Joe Wilson is the one who lied, not the President.

Quite simply, section 246 on page 143 specifically excludes “undocumented aliens” from receiving “affordability credits” to pay for health insurance. A racist and anti-immigrant group known as Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has come out with a fact deprived statement claiming that so-called illegal immigrants would receive “taxpayer-funded health care benefits,” which is, as President Obama responded to Wilson during his speech, “not true.” The bill (HR 3200), in fact, does not change the status quo. As it stands now, illegal immigrants can purchase their own health insurance through private insurers. On August 25, 2009, the Congressional Research Service reported that the House bill “does not contain any restrictions on noncitzens participating in the Exchange—whether the noncitizens are legally or illegally present, or in the United States temporarily or permanently.” So, FAIR is correct in asserting that illegal immigrants would be able to participate in the insurance exchange, but it is simply not true that they would be getting, essentially, free health care. They would have to purchase their own health insurance and they would not be able to receive “affordability credits” to off-set that purchase. In other words, they would assume the full cost of health insurance, with no assistance from tax-payers.

Also, just to underscore the absurdity of the claim, section 246 is titled “NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS.” Can it be any clearer?

There is a silly notion out there that the public option would essentially be free health care for the poor and lazy, at the expense of hard-working, rich, white people. The fact is, the public option, if it passes, would not be a free ride for the poor. In fact, they would be mandated to purchase health insurance. More than likely they would choose the more inexpensive not-for-profit government provided health insurance option. They would, however, if they are really poor, be able to receive government subsidies to purchase their health insurance.

So, no free ride for legal citizens or for illegal immigrants.

Now, whether or not not paying for undocumented immigrants is moral or financially sound, that is a different argument. Remember, if they continue to visit emergency rooms without health insurance, we will still be stuck with their hospital bills. It makes better sense to pay to cover them so that they receive better preventitive care. Paying for hospital visits and check-ups is far cheaper than paying for very expensive treatments that are completely preventable if caught early enough.

Another idiot making an ass of himself is Rush Limbaugh, the drugster.

He is trying to make a big fuss over the President’s new number: 30 million. The President used the figure “30 million” when referring to the number of people who are uninsured. Though the Census Bureau estimates that the figure is closer to 46.3 million, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated that the figure does not take into account undocumented immigrants. So, the White House argues, the actual figure of uninsured Americans is somewhere in the 30 millions. As the Census reported on today, the number of insured Americans rose to 46.3 million, up from 45.7 million. As the President lamented in his speech, that includes the 17,000 people who lose their insurance everyday. Whether or not the figure is 46.3 million or roughly 30 million, the fact is that we have a moral obligation to provide every American access to health insurance.

And, finally, another embarrassing moment has come from GOP Chairman Michael Steele. Steele has taken issue with the President’s use of a letter from the late Senator Ted Kennedy. The letter was delivered, after his death, to the President. Though health care reform was Kennedy’s life issue, Steele characterized the letter as a “political tool.” The moment in the speech was an emotional one as the President seemed to struggle through those words, the Vice President wiped a tear from his eye, and Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, sat crying in the audience. “This cause stretched across decades,” he wrote. “It has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. … In the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me — and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination.”

Here is the entirety of the letter:

May 12, 2009

Dear Mr. President,

I wanted to write a few final words to you to express my gratitude for your repeated personal kindnesses to me — and one last time, to salute your leadership in giving our country back its future and its truth.

On a personal level, you and Michelle reached out to Vicki, to our family and me in so many different ways. You helped to make these difficult months a happy time in my life.

You also made it a time of hope for me and for our country.

When I thought of all the years, all the battles, and all the memories of my long public life, I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the President who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society. For me, this cause stretched across decades; it has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. It was the cause of my life. And in the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me — and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination.

There will be struggles — there always have been — and they are already underway again. But as we moved forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat — that you will stay with the cause until it is won. I saw your conviction that the time is now and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity. But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.

And so because of your vision and resolve, I came to believe that soon, very soon, affordable health coverage will be available to all, in an America where the state of a family’s health will never again depend on the amount of a family’s wealth. And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will — yes, we will — fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.

In closing, let me say again how proud I was to be part of your campaign — and proud as well to play a part in the early months of a new era of high purpose and achievement. I entered public life with a young President who inspired a generation and the world. It gives me great hope that as I leave, another young President inspires another generation and once more on America’s behalf inspires the entire world.

So, I wrote this to thank you one last time as a friend — and to stand with you one last time for change and the America we can become.

At the Denver Convention where you were nominated, I said the dream lives on.

And I finished this letter with unshakable faith that the dream will be fulfilled for this generation, and preserved and enlarged for generations to come.

With deep respect and abiding affection,

As the President said, after decades of stalling, it is time to move forward. It is now time to bring about health care reform.

I have no health insurance. None. My employer does not provide it, because they’re cheap. I cannot afford to purchase it on my own because it is so expensive.

Several years ago, about 2003, I was involved in a semi-serious auto accident that landed me in the hospital. I was treated fairly well at Marian Medical Center in Santa Maria, California, but it was certainly not worth the twelve-thousand dollar bill I received. I could not afford to pay the bill up front, so I arranged to make monthly payments. Being fresh out of high school and working a crappy part-time minimum wage job, it became clear that I could not even afford to make those payments. After several months, after my credit was completely ruined, I was able to secure a grant from Borders (my employer), who paid for the entire bill. Due to some clerical error, my credit was further ruined and I had to spend months proving that I had paid my hospital bill. It was a fucking nightmare, to be totally honest.

Even more recent than that, in early May 2008, I was bed-ridden with a tooth infection. I do not have health insurance, so I never had my wisdom teeth pulled. My bottom right wisdom started hurting me a few years ago, but I ignored it. The pain would come and go, and when it came I would take a lot of aspirin or rub orajel on the area. Well, needless to say, by early May the tooth had become infected and I fell gravely ill. Again, due to the lack of insurance, I stayed in bed, praying the pain and fever would go away. My fiancee (now wife) and her mother watched over me, not realizing that it was my tooth that was the culprit. When my fever reached 104 degrees, my future mother-in-law realized the severity of the situation. Danielle, my then-fiancee, pointed out my swollen throat and face, and knew that it was my tooth. I had complained about it before. They quickly got me up and dressed, and drove me to Marian Medical Center’s Emergency room. Mind you, this was around nine o’clock in the evening.

After waiting nearly three hours in the waiting room, I was finally taken into another room where I would wait another half-hour for the doctor. I saw the doctor for less than a minute, literally. He asked me to open my mouth (which could only open about 3 or four centimeters), flashed a light in my mouth, and then told me to see a dentist. He briskly turned around and left the room. A nurse came in and gave me two Vicodin, then directed us to the billing office. The whole sha-bang cost $800 dollars, hardly worth it. I am still trying to pay off that debt a year later.

The next morning, my future father-in-law took me to a dentist. I quickly sat in the chair and opened my mouth as much as I could. Within that moment, he realized that he could do nothing for my mouth. He called an oral surgeon and made an appointment for me, ASAP. Blessedly, he was a kind dentist who did not charge me a single cent for the visit. I saw him months later at a Red Robin and he was very interested in my recovery. He was concerned, however, that I could still not fully open my mouth. He recommended that I see him again, but I never took him up on that. Again, no health insurance.

At any rate, I was still in a state of intense fever. The Vicodin had long worn off and I was in a lot of pain. My memory of these few days is a bit fuzzy. I was taken then to an oral surgeon named Dr. Slaughter, how appropriate. I was ushered in quickly, but before he would touch me we had to pay the bill up front. I am rather impoverished, so my future father-in-law was kind enough to pay the bill, which was roughly $1,200 dollars. I was given an x-ray, then walked into a room, sat down, and was immediately put under…

I had the most horrific nightmare…

People were falling into a giant pit of flames, where the heat was so intense that their skin melted off their bones. I was amongst those people, set aflame, but still alive, screaming and crying all at the same time…

I heard my name being called from above, and a bright light was obscuring the scene. I awoke slowly and in tremendous pain. The nurses walked me to the office, where I was then given a prescription for Vicodin. Again, the Vicodin was really expensive, and I could not afford it, so my father-in-law to-be paid for it.

The days blurred together. I was riding the crazy wave of a pain fueled fever, which caused me to vomit quite a bit, and gave me the sweats, even though I was cold all over my body. I also could not eat anything without throwing it back up, even water. This was very troubling to those around me, especially Danielle. And when I vomited, I was also inadvertently removing the Vicodin from my body. I had no sustenance, no vitamins, not even very much water, for weeks. On top of that, my fever raged on. Danielle made sure that I had ice packs on my throat and on my chest, in an attempt to bring down my body temperature, which remained above 100 for about two weeks. I wanted to die.

By the middle of week three, my temperature had come down a bit, and I was able to drink liquids, but nothing solid. Even if I had wanted to, my mouth could not open wide enough to eat anything. I could not even talk, due to my swollen throat and jaw. I had lost a lot of weight, unfortunately, as well. I was also really weak, still bed ridden. By week four, I was still feeling ill, in pain, could not open my mouth, but I was able to sit in the living room and watch t.v. I had no news for so long!!!! I had also missed a lot of work, which cost me a lot of money as well. I used my time to think about the wedding, which was in July, and I spent a lot of time reading. By this time, my Vicodin had run out, and I was having to take a lot of aspirin. It was by the end of week four that I started spitting out disgusting blood and puss that began to seep from my surgical wounds. As I continued to ice it, the swelling came down. By the end of week five, I was relatively ready for work. My jaw was still not able to open all the way, but I was able to stand up and talk, somewhat. My fever was gone and I was relatively healthy. Either way, I had missed too much work and needed to go back. By this time, I had a minor beard going on and I looked more pale and thin than I had ever been in my life. People at work had no idea what had happened to me, and they were shocked by my appearance. I was also unable to talk clearly, due to my jaw still being a bit swollen. It would take weeks before I could open my mouth all the way and eat real food. My weight and strength came back with time.

Thus is the state of the U.S.’s health care industry.

If I had adequate health care coverage, my credit would not have been ruined, taking me more than five years to recover. If I had adequate health care coverage, I could have had my wisdom teeth pulled, or had my tooth looked at before it had gotten infected. I have not had a physical in probably a decade, God only knows what else is wrong with me. I am not the only one. Millions of people suffer as I do. To be exact, in 2008 the figure was 46 million. 62% of bankruptcy claims in 2007 were directly related to health care costs, even though “77.9 percent of those bankrupted by medical problems had health insurance at the start of the bankrupting illness, including 60 percent who had private coverage.” The figures are staggering, and I have not the patience to cite them all… maybe just a few…

National Health Care Spending

* In 2008, health care spending in the United States reached $2.4 trillion, and was projected to reach $3.1 trillion in 2012. Health care spending is projected to reach $4.3 trillion by 2016.

* Health care spending is 4.3 times the amount spent on national defense.

* In 2008, the United States will spend 17 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care. It is projected that the percentage will reach 20 percent by 2017.

* Although nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured, the United States spends more on health care than other industrialized nations, and those countries provide health insurance to all their citizens.

* Health care spending accounted for 10.9 percent of the GDP in Switzerland, 10.7 percent in Germany, 9.7 percent in Canada and 9.5 percent in France, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Impact of Rising Health Care Costs

* National surveys show that the primary reason people are uninsured is the high cost of health insurance coverage.

* Economists have found that rising health care costs correlate to drops in health insurance coverage.

* Every 30 seconds in the United States someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem.

* A new survey shows that more than 25 percent said that housing problems resulted from medical debt, including the inability to make rent or mortgage payments and the development of bad credit ratings.

* About 1.5 million families lose their homes to foreclosure every year due to unaffordable medical costs.

* A survey of Iowa consumers found that in order to cope with rising health insurance costs, 86 percent said they had cut back on how much they could save, and 44 percent said that they have cut back on food and heating expenses.

* Retiring elderly couples will need $250,000 in savings just to pay for the most basic medical coverage. Many experts believe that this figure is conservative and that $300,000 may be a more realistic number.

* According to a recent report, the United States has $480 billion in excess spending each year in comparison to Western European nations that have universal health insurance coverage. The costs are mainly associated with excess administrative costs and poorer quality of care.

* The United States spends six times more per capita on the administration of the health care system than its peer Western European nations.

Well, maybe that was a bit more than a few, but it is still staggering. That is why our country seriously needs health care reform. Republican’s shot down the Clinton’s attempt in 1993, and since then our health care crisis has worsened dramatically. Health care coverage is a basic human right, but Republican’s are so interested in keeping the status quo and in allowing the heath care companies to dominate the market for their own profit, and at the expense of the American people and their health. Martin Luther King once remarked that “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane.” He was absolutely right.

There is a health care bill going through Congress now, known as HR 676. I urge everyone to call their representative and demand action; demand that they support your right to health care coverage.

Call: 1-202-224-3121

Or find their e-mail at:

HR 676 will provide everyone automatic coverage for life for every American, and it will cover dental, vision, and prescription drugs. And despite Republican claims, you will be able to choose your own doctor and hospital. It will also have the added bonus of creating new jobs reducing health care costs for businesses. In having everyone covered, prices will drop, and CEO’s and faceless corporations will not have the ability to control your health care. We will have our health care in our own hands. Time and time again, Republicans claim government bureaucrats will control your health care, and they paint that as a negative consequence. I think that is a false choice: either have the government in control of health care, or have no coverage at all. I think most Americans would rather have coverage. Not only that, but I trust the government to handle heath care far more than I trust a greedy CEO, or a money grubbing board of directors, or anyone else looking to make a buck on my misfortune.

Now is our time. Now is our moment to take health care coverage out of the hands of the selfish few and share it with all Americans who are so desperate for care.

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