Being SiCKO in a Tea Party Nation

By Donna Smith –

RENO, Nevada — I ventured backward in my memories to the fall of 2006 and wondered what might have happened differently if the Tea Party ruled this nation. It’s not that I am thrilled with the current state of political reality, but I am worried that if the trend toward more greed, more self-righteousness and more far flung and far-fetched ultra-conservatism continues, folks like me will stand no chance. We’ll be washed away like street dust down the storm drains after a fast-moving, summer thunderstorm, and no one will think of us again.

We are — I am — among the unclean. I tried in vain to keep my financial head above water in the face of impending healthcare doom and financial collapse. I failed to negotiate manageable payments with doctors and hospitals and clinics and even a local pharmacy. I did always pay my health insurance premiums, though. I succeeded at least in that way. But belly up I went. That was 2006.

It has been nearly four years since our journey to reclaim our dignity began. Bankrupt and homeless, sick and tired, we decided allowing our healthcare horror story to be told by Michael Moore would at least document our demise somehow.

If the Tea Party had been in control, perhaps the collapse might have been mercifully more brief. Under their view of the healthcare world, people without the appropriate and adequate means of payment should perish due to the lack of those means. Let’s see. That means when I was diagnosed with cancer, I might have found out immediately that since I did not have my full deductible payment up front that I would have to wait for treatment until I did. The reality was that my symptoms — in my case severe bleeding — would have prevented me from working every day I needed to in order to take home a full paycheck and save $10 or $20 a pay period toward that $2,000 deductible. If I had survived the bleeding, the cancer would have advanced. Under the Tea Party view, that would apparently have been just and maybe God’s will for my life outcome.

And what about my husband? We often struggled to meet his health costs — that is until he was eligible for Medicare coverage and the supplemental coverage we purchased. Again, if the Tea Party had been in control, we would have had no way to apply for Social Security disability and finally Medicare, and my husband would not have survived to retirement age. Damaged goods, I suppose, in the Tea Party view.

Again, I am not saying our outcomes were better because of the Democrats or the moderate Republicans or the Independents, the Greens, or any other political party in America. My husband and I survived because of a Michael Moore film and a series of somewhat lesser miracles stemming from our experiences being included in SiCKO — and because we have sacrificed all other goals in our lives to clawing our way out of that storm gutter. No one is cutting us slack.

It took not just one miracle but several to lift us from our healthcare-financial collapse even without the Tea Party in power. It shouldn’t take that, but it did and still does. The work we both have to do and the time we must spend apart is extraordinarily difficult. But if we flinch now, we’ll be washed right back down that drain of failure as if the past 48 months of intense effort never happened. That’s what hard-working Americans face every day. Most don’t have the miracles we had to build on.

Tea Party faithful believe that not only will the weak not inherit the earth but that the weak shall be banished from it. Tea Party faithful think people are weak who must lean on our social safety nets, even if many of them collect Social Security, unemployment benefits and are Medicare beneficiaries. No matter, they think and they proselytize. Do away with all those “wicked” entitlements, they muse.

So, in my backwards time capsule, I bleed my way through a few months or even a year working with cancer and trying to save cash to meet my deductible. During that year, my husband’s artery disease advances due to the lack of a single-standard of high quality care for all and due to the stress of watching me suffer. In the end, after months of painful decline and loss of my job and our only income, we end up dead. We leave bills behind we could not pay and boxes of our personal belongings with no saleable value that will need to be taken to the dumpster.

Think of all the taxes I wouldn’t have paid and the money I wouldn’t have spent in just four years if I had died back then. Some of the people who have benefited from my staying alive would have also had less happy outcomes.

It would have been ugly but swift. In a Tea Party world, the meek and the weak are so because they didn’t work hard enough or long enough. If their vision prevails, which I hear as only a slight morph of the right-wing Republican agenda, there will be a culling out of those who get sick or hurt and don’t have a way to bankroll their recoveries.

But, wait, back to my reality. The Tea Party vision really isn’t very much different from how it is right now. The stark truth of it is that if the same thing were to happen to me today that unfolded pre-SiCKO, there would be no Michael Moore’s SiCKO II and no rescue and no way to recreate the miracles of 2006-2010.

Until we all embrace reality that our healthcare mess — under any system that does not provide a progressively financed, single standard of high quality care for all — is an economic and also very personal expression of our national cruelty toward the weak and towards one another, we will remain Tea Party loyalists in the making. Right now, some just want to pretend they represent some other view, but as far as I can tell, death and failure are imminent for people like me; it’s just a matter of how quickly and how harshly.

So long as the Tea Party is even one step away from control, I’ll work to advance a wiser, more economically bold and sane system that views the loss of life as a cost we collectively cannot swallow.

I’ll keep on keeping on, as the saying goes. I’ll keep hoping and praying and doing the hard work to back up that hope and prayer. But if we move closer to a Tea Party view instead of away from it and if I face another situation in which a new cancer diagnosis arises again, I think I’ll just shut up and bleed.

Donna Smith is a community organizer for National Nurses United (the new national arm of the California Nurses Association), National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign and Healthcare-NOW! Steering Committee member.