An Open Letter to Congress: Help Me or I Will Die

By Donna Smith–

U.S. Representative Eric Massa of New York said this week that in the 86 days since he took office, he has received many letters from his constituents. Some are general letters supporting him or proposed legislation; some letters express disagreement with some of what Congress is working on. Other letters begin with the phrase, “Help me, or I might lose my house,” Massa said. But at least once every other day, Congressman Massa reads the words, “Help me or I will die,” as a constituent from his great state falls through the gaping holes in the healthcare system we have today.

Thirty-five letters in 86 days.

“Help me or I will die,” we write to them in ever increasing numbers. Help me, we beg. And while Massa said he doesn’t know how any Congressional member goes to sleep at night without thinking about these letters he knows all of his colleagues must get too, we know that many don’t yet know what our reality looks like or certainly what it feels like. Or worse, they still just don’t care.

Healthcare reform is a priority, they tell us. Health insurance mandates. Buy the product, they say, and you’ll be OK. Buying insurance will mean everyone has healthcare, they seem to be trying to say. Yet over the course of more than half a century, more and more Americans are dying in a system more and more controlled by corporate greed.

“Help me or I will die,” we keep writing. We keep pleading.

Some Congressional members are fighting for a different sort of system. They are fighting for a publicly financed, privately delivered system. But their fight is being squelched by those advocating for our forced participation – through mandates – in an expansion of the health insurance profiteering that has killed so many of our citizens already. And as the push for mandates deepens, the insurance CEOs will grow ever more fond of the members of Congress who will build their customer bases exponentially – and fatten their salaries and bonuses at exactly the same time 14,000 regular Jane’s and Joe’s every single day in America are losing their employer based healthcare benefits when they lose their jobs.

“Help me or I will die,” we write in the insistent drumbeat of human suffering in America that is so far answered with caucus meetings and political calculations and lots of special attention to protecting the insurance industry and its profits.

The insurance industry does not believe in the free market and competition at all. In fact, they believe in forced purchasing of their products. In recent days they have argued that they cannot accept any public plan option like a Medicare for All plan. Why? Because they could not compete with that sort of plan. So, the insurance industry argues they need the government to make sure they do not have to compete and that they can count on all of us being forced to buy their product. That’s not a love of the free market at all.

Giving me the basic human right of healthcare and letting me decide where to get my care is a love of the free market. Allowing the insurance industry to dictate the terms of my life and my death is not freedom. It is tyranny. It is a sham.

“Help me or I will die,” we write. And as we write, another American dies because the insurance industry decides the value of that life and its impact on the bottom line of their profits. Hundreds of thousands of times every year, the insurance industry answers that plea with a denial or a delay. A letter is sent to yet another Congressional member. The suffering goes on and on and on. But Congress fights to protect the industry, and another American dies.

This fight for the basic human right of healthcare is a tough one. Congressional members read the letters. Some, like Eric Massa, have trouble sleeping when they think about the suffering at home in their own districts because they know it could be so very different. Others can apparently rationalize their lack of action as somehow necessary or even in the best interests of a market based economy and free enterprise.

“Help me or I will die.”

Work horse meetings. Stakeholder meetings. Super stakeholder meetings. Drafting committees. Orchestrated hearings with choreographed witnesses. White House summits and regional forums. Healthcare house meetings. On and on and on — the suffering marches on while the insurance industry marches confidently to the front of the pack, ever sure of their position, ever sure of their outcome.

So who will pay for the insurance industry to beef up its profits? The same Americans writing for help and dying while waiting. And who will fund the bureaucracy set up to record the insurance mandates and the enforcement of the mandates and the collection of the mandate fines and the agencies set up to manage the flow of business to the insurance industry? You get the picture. We the people — the Americans writing for help from their leaders.

“Help me or I will die.” And the Congress keeps forgetting it is the one place where the people writing the letters are supposed to have a say in what the answers will be this democracy. The people’s house of government. So we keep writing.

Now I read that some want this public plan option you’re selling to us to really be just another way to buy into a private insurance pool. The “public option” as they’ll try to sell it will not really be a national plan like Medicare but an employee pool for purchasing for-profit insurance plans. This Congress is inching ever closer to simply handing total control of our healthcare system over to the insurance industry. The want to manage us into thinking they give a damn.

“Help me or I will die.”

So, when the next round of Congressional elections rolls around in just a little more than a year, their campaign coffers will burst with funds sent to them by the folks who will profit wildly from an health insurance industry forced government mandate that Americans buy private, for-profit health insurance. Full circle… we, the people, will have funded with the mandated premiums the re-election of those who sold us down the river and tried to tell us it was healthcare reform. Do you suppose the Republicans will love pointing out this bail out of the private insurance industry?

“Help me or I will die.” It’s not too late for Congress to respond with real reform, real fiscal responsibility, real honor and real courage. In fact, to respond to these pleas by simply entrenching corporate profits at the people’s expense, could mean that in just a few months it may be too late for you in the ballot boxes of this nation as the plans do nothing to stem the flow of letters on Rep. Massa’s desk.

Help us. Help us. Help us. We’re going to keep writing and calling and voting until you do.

© 2009

Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses Association and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.


  1. TMP on April 4, 2009 at 8:05 am

    We can have mandates as long as there are price controls. Yes, a concept that raises the hackles of most “capitalist”, but one that is MUST if Americans truly want affordable, accessible healthcare.

    Capitalism is based on the idea of two parties entering into an agreement. One to buy, the other to see at agreed upon price and terms. This concept has been ignored under the get as much as you can as fast as you can mentality that overtook corporate America in the mid-80s. We’re all living the results of CDS, derivitates and Liar Loans.

    The health insurance industry waives audits results (produced by people THEY pay and supervise) to claim ever escalating premiums are necessary to keep the company in business. So, a CEO earns more in an annual bonus than it would have cost to cover vaccines for children the company denies.

    Haven’t we had enough of this? Haven’t we woken up to the fact that too many people in corporate America don’t EARN their salaries, they’re gifts from too friendly board members. Do we get it that salaries are no longer an indication of a person value to the company, but a result of negotiations that have little to do with performance.

    Wake up America. Your piece of the pie was gobble up by corporate greed.

  2. Esther Confino on April 6, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Congress is not listening;the bribery of each member by the private stakeholders is so blatant. We have to emphasize that we will not stand for this. We have to tell them they have been bribed; that they don’t have the courage to tell the truth or they are not able to understand what has been said to them by those who do not have an ax to grind and we know it. If we get angry enough, they will hear from us at the ballot box. Perhaps we have to start printing names of those who would not sponsor HR 676, lists of contributions from all the stakeholders,(with the amounts of course), names of relatives who work for a stakeholder. Get some help on this from Michael Moore. Include Democrats and Republicans.

  3. Vashti Winterburg on April 6, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    One of the things I like best about H.R. 676 is that each of us would pay a known,set amount of our income, 4.7%, for healthcare. No deductibles, no co-insurance, no co-pays, no premiums, just a set amount, and it’s a reasonable amount. Who knows what the insurance companies will walk away with if the Obama/Baucus plan passes? I think the amount of money our politicians are taking from Big Pharma and the insurance companies is making them stupid enough to think that we’re stupid. The Obama/Baucus plan is too expensive, too complicated and ineffective.
    My other point is that The administration keeps talking about controlling health care costs. Six years ago I attended one of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius’s privately funded health care meetings. Supposedly all the stake holders were invited, but it was heavily weighted towards insurance companies. The insurance companies LOVED all the ideas for saving money. Why? Because they were going to shove every saved dollar into their pockets. Policy holders wouldn’t see a dime in reduced costs.
    H.R.676 is the only game in town. We have to just keep the faith and keep pushing.

  4. cate norton on January 23, 2010 at 1:31 am

    Congress is so willing to place blame on others – look in the mirror and decide it’s time for us (the citizens who elected you and hoped you would be accountable) to realize the same health benefits you have – why are you so special?