I watched the film The Road recently, and I felt myself more deeply disturbed than I could have imagined by the film. In fact, it stayed with me for days -- especially the bit where a baby is being eaten. It is a post-apocalyptic film based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy that deals with human survival on a lifeless, barren earth. Humans are forced to either become cannibals or scavenge for remnants of pre-apocalyptic nourishment (canned food). After missing a night of sleep and mulling over the themes, mysteries, and possibilities of this film, I asked myself, "Which nerve has this struck?" My experience of that film went deeper than just the film. It meant something to me personally. And then it occurred to me that it had to do with my children, and with my country. It had to do with the day my innocent and naive heart broke into pieces.
The only way I could relate to the brutality of the fictitious cannibalism of The Road was through my experience with our health care system. The singular place where my little world has been touched by life or death situations met with utter apathy is the United States' current capitalistic health care system.
You see, when my youngest daughter was 6 weeks old, I had a harrowing realization: our health system, as it is now, does not care about my baby's life. She is only worth keeping alive to them as long as they can profit from her. If she cannot turn a profit, they are fine with letting her die. This realization rocked my world. It was beyond horrifying. Before I lived it, I wouldn't have believed it. I was fortunate enough to blog about my experience in detail here at the Huffington Post at that time. To sum up, she had a surgery scheduled to correct an infection in her cheek. The infection, caused by a previous surgery, had become so severe that her skin ripped open and her granulation tissue (looks like brain) began spilling out. The day before her long awaited procedure, I received a phone call from UCLA canceling her surgery because our insurance had lapsed (their mistake). I spent the entire day on the phone with insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, getting everything cleared up and our insurance reinstated. What dawned on me that day, as I wept, pleading for my daughter's well being, offering credit cards, cash, checks, whatever they would take, is that no one really cares beyond the dollar signs. The system isn't designed to care. The health system, as it is now, is only designed to profit, and those who serve the system must serve that agenda or risk being fired.
Her insides coming out, her little six week old face full of love, despite her pain, I felt my own heart breaking as people on the other end of the line told me there was nothing they could do, bothered that I wouldn't just shut up and take no for an answer. The final breakthrough happened when a customer service rep, whose mantra had been, "There's nothing I can do," showed some humanity when I asked her, "If it were your 6 week old baby, what would you do?" She pulled her supervisor out of an all day meeting. He accepted my credit card payment and found a way to clear up the mess.
This was back in the days when we had insurance. Since then, both of my children are refused private health coverage because of pre-existing conditions. "That's a decline," is the impersonal way the insurance reps turn down my children. I make too much money to qualify for public aid legally, too little to be able to afford to pay huge medical bills in cash. We filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy last October. Health issues are the leading cause of such a filing in this country, and they were our cause. We lost our home.
I guess it's pretty obvious why the film, The Road, bothered me so deeply. It's about a society that has turned to consuming each other to live. In the society of The Road, there are only those who eat each other to live, or, on the other hand, those who still care enough to hold onto love for their fellow humans -- "to carry the torch," as the characters say. To carry the torch is to search for an alternative to cannibalism.
Consuming each other to live -- is that what we are doing here in the U.S.A. with our health care? In the film, The Road, it took a kind of toughness to be a cannibal. Eat or be eaten. It is that same kind of toughness that I see people take on when they have do something hard, like refuse to give health insurance to someone because they are or have been sick. Eat or be eaten?
Are we, the people of the United States of America, metaphorically eating our babies? Are we the last civilized nation to have socialized medicine? Are we willing to let babies be refused health coverage because they were once sick? Or because they are sick? In other words, because they are no longer profitable in the ledger? At the moment, the sad answer to these questions is yes.
Does it have to be that way? Is that who we have to be? No. We can find another way. We Americans are that smart, that resourceful, that full of compassion and reverence for human life.
This is a defining moment for our nation. We must decide which we are: shall we consume each other until there is nothing left? Or shall we take the higher road, and find a way to care? How much do you care? Do you care enough to say something to Congress or your Senator?
To quote Mitch Stewart of Organizing for America in an email he sent to me today,
"Health care spending rose to an estimated $2.5 trillion in 2009, or $8,047 per person -- and is now projected to nearly double by 2019. If we don't act, this growing burden will mean more lost jobs, more families pushed into bankruptcy, and more crushing debt for our nation.
The conclusion is clear: This isn't a problem we can kick down the road for another decade -- or even another year. We need to pass health reform now.
We're incredibly close. But too many in Washington are now saying that we should delay or give up on reform entirely. So we need to make it crystal clear that Americans understand the stakes for our economy and our lives, and that we want action."
Let's be better than Mr. McCarthy's cannibals. Let's carry the torch. Let's care. It's not too late --