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Veronica De La Cruz Headshot

Change We Can Believe In, Even From Paris

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March 21, 2010. To me, a bittersweet day in history.

Yes, history was made. But for me and my family, it came at a supreme price.

As I sat and watched the vote take place from my perch in Paris, tears ran freely down my face. Why am I in Paris? What am I doing here?

The short answer can be found in my quest to discover just why the World Health Organization ranks France and its socialized medicine, so derided by conservatives, #1 in the world in terms of health care, and within the top 10 in life expectancy. The United States, meanwhile, slides in at an unimpressive #37 and #50, even after spending more per capita on health care than any other country. France spends less on health care, yet has had a better outcome. How so?

That would be the short answer for my visit here. But behind that one is a longer answer which lies somewhere in my brother Eric's dream. A dream never to be actualized, because my brother Eric died on July 4, 2009 after private insurers repeatedly denied him coverage, making it a lengthy struggle to get into a hospital and receive proper care for a heart condition that worsened. Eric died far too young. And when he died, my whole world was turned upside down.

Eric was a huge fan of the movie Amelie, and was fascinated by Paris, though he did not live long enough to ever make the trip. So, after months of what has seemed like non-stop advocacy for health care reform at any venue that would have me, I decided to come here to reflect on what had happened. To seek refuge from a broken heart, but also to escape a country that I felt had let my brother, my family and me, down.

No matter how many miles I could put between myself and Eric's old hospital bed in Las Vegas -- or the political debate in Washington, D.C. -- I couldn't outrun the ever-present thought of how unfairly life had treated my brother. I thought a lot about what's happening now in the Capitol and what could possibly be done to prevent such an injustice from happening again.

So, despite the variety of distractions the City of Lights offers, I found myself instead discussing the topic of health care with French lawmakers in Paris immediately upon landing. Throughout my discussions with both government officials and citizens, I've learned quite a bit about their way of caring for their own sick and vulnerable. Many have confided in me that, yes, there are problems with their system. They struggle with the rising cost of health care as their own baby boomers age, and they say they have an issue with fraud. But when I ask them what they will do, their answers are quite simple, as one official told me: "We will crack down and fix the problem of fraud. We will find a solution. No system is perfect. But our system of 'universal health care' works. We couldn't even fathom NOT providing health care, a very basic neccessity, to our citizens."

Sunday's historic vote by the U.S. House of Representatives sets in motion a shift toward our own, uniquely American solution to rising health care costs and insurance industry abuses. Love it or hate it, the passage of the Senate bill, along with the set of proposed amendments which will strengthen it, marks an important first step toward recognizing that some basic level of affordable health care is a right in a civilized society.

As political parties and as individuals, we have created a vast philosophical divide between the paths we each believe our nation should take to solve this crisis. And in the end, after all of the horrid divisiveness and rhetoric, the final piece of legislation that will come out of this yearlong long debacle will satisfy few people completely. Many of us, myself included, still feel that a public option is a critical component of a system that truly levels the playing field and controls costs. While it is not in the bill that the President signed into law on Tuesday, I do not believe that it will go away any time soon. In fact, yesterday's historic bill signing ceremony lays the groundwork for a public option to one day become a reality.

So even without the public option, this new law -- which brings more than 30 million uninsured people under coverage and ends discrimination based on pre-existing conditions -- is worthy of celebration. Major celebration. One thing on which both sides can definitely agree, is the historic nature of this legislative effort. The task of reforming health care has been decades in the making and I, for one, am confident that it will be celebrated decades from now, by our children, our children's children and so on. I cannot wait for the day that my own children ask me about their uncle Eric and I tell them that yes, there was once a time in American history when all citizens did not have equal access to health care. And from there, I will share with them the story of my brother and cry again.

Today however, I can smile a little. I can smile knowing that my brother's death was not in vain. And I can sleep well knowing that his struggle, now known to the rest of the world, has helped raise awareness to a system that has been beyond broken for far too long.

There is still plenty of work to be done. So before we uncork the champagne, let's roll up our sleeves. No matter what side you were on, think of this as the beginning, not the end. Help pass the best possible health care reform for our country by getting involved. Sign the petition for #ERIC'S LAW at www.EricsLaw.com and call your Senator at 202.224.3121 to ask that they support the set of amendments to the Senate bill spelled out in reconciliation measure H.R. 4872.