Opinion » Bill Cope

The People on Jars

And the cure to what ails us

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The situation I am about to discuss should offend you, it should make you tremble with indignation to think it's happening here. In America—widely considered a civilized and modern nation. If it doesn't, there's something wrong with you, poor soul. It means you are sick ... diseased ... possibly even a danger to those you love. I'm no doctor, but if I had to diagnose your affliction, I would conclude that you've been exposed to Republicans. That you've listened to their wheezing logic and caught their doctrinal germs. That you've been infected by the gooey effluvium they call economic philosophy, then got yourself hooked on the insidious dope that passes for a remedy to these free-market Marys. It may be too late for you. You may be too far gone. But read on, anyway, if not for yourself, then for your children. However irreversible your condition may be, your children needn't suffer the same wasting plague. Like British children, Canadian children, Greek children, Japanese children, the children of Sweden, Norway, Italy, France, Germany, New Zealand, The Netherlands, (I could go on), your children could escape the debilitating miasma that passes for a health-care system here in America. So with the last of your strength, before your mind sinks entirely into the fevered dementia of conservative creed, ignore what you think you know about socialized medicine and take another look. Look at Spain and Ireland, Denmark and Switzerland, Australia, Turkey, Austria, (I could still go on), and ask yourself, if they can swing it, why not us? And above all, listen not to the pestilence of Republican cant that is eating away your brain, but to what your sense of common decency is telling you.

The phenomenon that got me started on this isn't unusual. You've seen it many times, I'm certain of that: a gallon jar or a coffee can with someone's picture taped to it, being filled—hopefully—with folding money and loose change. There's always a name and an explanation under the picture—"childhood leukemia," "congenital heart defect," "kidney transplant," "terrible accident," "tumor." The jar could be on the counter next to the cash register in the joint where you go for lottery tickets and cigarettes. There is often one in bars, I'm guessing, because when people have a few drinks under their belts, they tend to be a tad more generous.

Maybe you've had someone approach you at your job with the jar in their hands, asking for a donation, or in some social setting like your bowling league. That's where this started for me—a couple of weeks ago while bowling. It was the third time since the season started that a jar was passed for someone in desperate need of help. I didn't know the woman on this most recent jar, so I asked what was wrong. She needs an operation. If she doesn't get it, the best-case scenario is that she loses her sight. You can guess what the worst-case scenario is.

It should come as no surprise that she's either uninsured or under-insured, seeing as how nearly a third of all Americans are one or the other. The operation she needs is going to cost $45,000, and the "health providers" (wink wink) insist she has to have $36,000 up front before they will perform it. Like many of us, she doesn't have 36,000 extra dollars at her disposal, so her friends and family are out soliciting donations.

Have I told you anything you haven't heard of before? I doubt it. It happens so often, we rarely pay much attention anymore. It's on the periphery of our awareness—the jar with the picture on it next to the butane lighter display or the rack of beer nuts. It's as common as insurance companies weaseling out of paying claims, that when many of our fellow Americans come face to face with a life-threatening circumstance, their friends and family have to go begging from strangers in bowling alleys and bars to get them through the crisis. And all while pharmaceutical giants and insurance companies and corporate HMOs dedicate great, great wads of money to convincing Americans the worst possible thing that could happen to them is for their own government to provide everyone with an equal shot at surviving.

I repeat, if that doesn't offend you, you should have, at the very least, your head examined.

We have remained largely silent while this epidemic of laissez-faire conservatism has painted a simple, civilized concept with such a leprous brush that universal care seems more horrible than the real horrors we all know are happening. Put aside for a moment the shame we should feel that members of our American community have to go pleading for the down payment on a critical procedure. Not every situation is so desperate, it's agreed. Still, there are few of us left who don't have a story, either from personal experience or about someone we know, of how a family was left ruined—financially, structurally, or both—in their efforts to save a loved one. And if it hasn't happened to us yet, we whistle past the emergency room and pretend the ravages of a system motivated increasingly by profit will never darken our lives.

Yet even the Democrats are afraid to utter the phrase "socialized medicine," lest they appear to embrace what the greatest portion of the modern world has long embraced—the understanding that the first obligation of wealthy and advanced nations is not to spread military muscle and corporate influence around the globe, but to attend to the health and welfare of their own citizens.

No advocate of a socialized system should be so naive as to think there wouldn't be problems—fraud, incompetence, bureaucratic bumbling. But it is within our capacity as human beings to endlessly improve upon any artifices we construct, including a dose of socialism when socialism is called for. Besides, it's not like we don't have fraud, incompetence and bureaucratic bumbling under the malignant system we have now.

As to the cost? You'd be surprised at how many lives can be improved when we aren't getting into unnecessary wars at a trillion bucks a pop.

And about the woman on the jar: I didn't give her name or the specific problem with her health. It's not my place to do that without her permission. But speaking on behalf of BW to anyone whose picture is taped to a jar, we are considering a regular, recurring space for you or your supporters to explain your plight and what you need. The final decision will depend on the response we get.