06/10/2008 09:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Gold Rush Town That Symbolizes our Health Care Crisis

The small Gold Rush town of Magalia in the shadows of the Sierra Nevada mountains just north of Paradise, Ca. might not be the first place you'd think of to look at what's so very wrong with our health care system.

But Magalia is a good place to understand why thousands of nurses, patients, and healthcare activists will be on hand to greet thousands of health insurance executives, claims adjustors, managers and sales reps gathering in San Francisco June 19 for the annual America's Health Insurance Plan convention.

Deborah and Keith Krinsky are begging their mortgage lender for relief as they face mounting medical costs and mortgage pressures at the same time. "We have refinanced our home six times to be able to pay our medical costs, over the last years. The costs have been over $80,000 with bad health insurance."

"I am unable to work," Deborah writes on, "due to my ankles collapsing in 2000. My husband is now taking a job that has good health insurance but at a $30,000 a year pay cut. We will not be keeping the COBRA coverage due to the $7,500 deductible plan -- it's a medical savings plan that has our meds included in the deductible."

Saundra Iden and her husband live in Magalia, CA, but when Saundra wrote their story on the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee's website, her picture of their retirement doesn't sound like the idyllic model we would all hope for our seniors.

"We fight with the insurance company all the time to pay for our medications" for congestive heart failure, lung problems, and arthritis. "My husband has chronic fatigue and extreme sleep apnea. We are on fixed income and are going broke. Last year we paid to have dental work done. My husband had to have all of his teeth pulled and dentures put in at the cost of $5,000, which we had no coverage for. I had to have all of my caps redone or pull all my teeth pulled. The cost was $5,000. And no coverage from my work either."

Other Magalia families struggle to get any healthcare coverage because they work and make too much to qualify for any state assistance but make far too little to afford private health insurance. Magalia resident Tina Kley and her family just wait and pray and work and worry, "I have a heart condition that requires daily medication. It seems innocent but it has caused me a lot of discomfort. In the recent past, I had an episode that scared me very badly. I could not go to the ER because I would have to pay cash for it and, as it is we can barely survive on what we make. So adding another payment plan to our bills is not really an option."

Another Magalia neighbor, young Trishna Napier, is on the verge of losing her teeth because a state health program doesn't cover the care she needs, "My dentist will not do root canals on four of my molars. He will only fill them because Med-Cal will not pay to do root canals. I am in constant pain all the time. I only eat on my left side of my mouth. I am only 29 years old and want to take good care of the teeth. But if the care is not given soon I will have to have my teeth pulled and fake ones put in."

Four California families, four separate situations, and a common struggle. All staring at health and economic disaster because of an inadequate and often uncaring healthcare system. You're not immune in small-town America any more than you are in our biggest cities.

Americans want fundamental, not incremental, change. But they certainly won't get it from Sen. John McCain whose brew of tax cuts for those who can afford it, more competition by insurers who only compete by who can cut the most costs by denying claims,, and deregulation, will simply perpetuate the current morass. Sen. Barack Obama is at least talking about universal coverage, and proposing a ban on insurance companies refusing to sell plans to people who have ever been sick.

But there's only one way to achieve genuinely universal, comprehensive coverage that also takes the foot of the insurance giants off our necks. It's a single payer system, as embodied in HR 676, a bill that has more co-sponsors than any other health plan now in Congress.

HR 676 is the only reform that would actually provide the relief the families of Magalia need, and the reason why we'll be in the streets of San Francisco, as well as Philadelphia, Louisville, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, and many others on June 19. Learn more at, and join us.