The greatest wealth is health. Virgil
“GROW A PAIR!”
I had forgotten how much I missed ‘shouty.’ The real kind of individual, educated and well informed shouty, and not just the protest chants sung in unison at organized demonstrations. Sure, that’s terrific and there isn’t even enough of that these days, but nothing beats an informed voice—or fifty or more— hollering to a politician and basically saying, “You just listen to me for once!”
There was such a protest in front of Carolyn Maloney’s office on Third Avenue and 93rd Street this afternoon. She’s my Democratic representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ms. Maloney made only a brief and apologetic appearance, explaining to the protesters that she’d had to be in Washington D.C. for a vote and, in fact, there was a car waiting to whisk her away to the airport. Her assistant appeared without a coat and in the brisk winter sunshine valiantly tried to answer everyone’s very shouty complaints.
I grew up without health insurance. We were a family who lived marginally in a housing project in Astoria, Queens. My father was a self-employed antiques restorer, which meant his income, when it materialized at all, was erratic. His clientele, such as they were, came from the very wealthy avenues in Manhattan and his services, though valuable when a beloved heirloom needed repair, were not often amply rewarded and just as often he was the last person on a long list of creditors to be paid. A rabid Conservative, he was just as cowed by the rich as he was bitter about government. To be on welfare was a disgrace and made you one of ‘them.’ Well, we were ‘them.’ We may have been, as residents of Astoria, considered part of the so-called Silk Stocking District then (I’m not sure where the boundaries lay at that time), just as I am now, being a long time inhabitant of the upper East Side, but we knew who wore the silk stockings and who didn’t.
Our health care needs were seen to only in dire emergencies. Then, when the fever was too high or we were covered in spots, our family doctor would make a house call. It cost money my parents didn’t often have but a doctor’s fee never broke the bank in those days. Visits to the dentist were not regular and I recall only a couple of years when my sister and I saw a dentist with any consistency at all. Nothing sophisticated about his practice, our young teeth were drilled mercilessly, and I came away with a mouth full of mercury and absolutely no real education concerning healthy teeth. It would be many years later that I would find out I had a serious genetic condition that should have been seen to when I was a child.
I married into a wealthy family—the ones who gloried in that ‘Silk Stocking’ appellation—who lived on Park Avenue. While their son’s health care needs were seen to mine were not even discussed. Divorced, I remained an adult without health insurance because my employers did not provide even basic coverage, never mind paid sick days.
I did the best I could on my own and had a few scares that were mitigated by angelic doctors who found a way. One, who I adored and who saw me through a crucial time eventually left the medical profession, undone by it all. In fact, until my early forties when I remarried and The Mister got a job that provided health insurance, I was pretty much winging it. But even now we struggle with inadequate dental insurance, and shudder at the expense of new eyeglasses which are not covered. There is no complimentary medicine that is valued among the medical profession covered under our plan and when I walk into a doctor’s office the first thing he’ll tell me is that at my age I should be on whatever drugs it is that people of ‘my age’ are on. When I saw a dermatologist for what turned out to be a painful case of shingles, her assistant was blatantly shocked that I had not listed even one medication that I took regularly and stopped short of accusing me of not being entirely truthful. A GP I once saw pooh-poohed my resistance to prescription drugs and assured me I would be happier on whatever cholesterol medication she was shilling even though my cholesterol was normal. “You’ll need it eventually, so why not get started,” she sagely advised. When she pretty much sneered at my vegetarian diet and admitted she’d not heard of soy milk I bade her good day and never looked back. I can break a leg though and if it doesn’t mean a starring role on stage for me, at least it means the bones will be repaired and covered by The Mister’s very basic health insurance.
Most of the protesters this afternoon were my age, some years older. And they were pissed! “Call them what they are at this point! Unconcerned. That’s what they are. They are un-American!” “Let them go”, another shouted. “They aren’t even listening to us.” One woman, clearly disgusted suggested in a loud, uncompromising manner that our president should, “…grow a pair!”
That smarmy turncoat Joe Lieberman would have gotten his comeuppance from voters who are damned well fed up with the likes of him. When Maloney’s assistant patiently advised that we might wait and see what Obama’s State of the Union would deliver regarding the issues, I’m afraid the President didn’t fare too well either. “Bring back Howard Dean,” they chanted. “Get rid of Rahm Emanuel!” Music to my ears.
The recently reported dictate by insurance providers that hospitals would have to notify them within the first 24 hours of a patient’s admission or the patient would lose up to 50% of their benefit caused outrage among the protestors. They loudly demanded a public option while a few of the older folks interjected and reminded the crowd that it started out as a campaign promise from Obama—that he would fight for single payer. “That died a pretty quick death.” “Let them filibuster!” another shouted. One woman proposed rather meekly, “I gotta say we should get what we can at this point and then incrementally a bit more at a time.” But she was roundly shot down. Why pay for insurance execs salaries? Why pay for the advertising those companies are already bombarding us with. “Single payer. Single payer,” repeated one man and another a few years younger who had been pressing for the public option agreed he was right. A middle-aged man, perhaps in his fifties, said he worried dreadfully for the Democrats.But my favorite activist of the day was a white-haired man in an old-fashioned peak cap reminiscent of the men in my father’s time. When one of the organizers of the protest tried gently to shepherd him behind the barriers—that lovely New Age area called a Freedom of Speech zone—he snarled and said, “I don’t like the word ‘barriers’.”