Health care: an American right, not a privilege

This is not "to whom it may concern;" it is "to all of us concerned and those of you who think you don't need to be concerned."

I am writing because I cannot stand silent any longer about the sheer angst I feel regarding the lack of health care for every American in this country.

After viewing 60 Minutes Sunday night I was literally moved to tears. Hearing people's testimony about having cancer and being left to die, simply because their health insurance was cancelled due to being laid off from jobs that they had held for years, makes me ashamed to be an American. Please don't be alarmed about this bit of news if you are indigent in this country or wealthy, because you will receive necessary medical care.

Interestingly, the next segment in the 60 Minutes broadcast was about an Iranian prisoner telling his story about his tortuous eight years in an Iranian prison for speaking out on human rights. Tell me what is the difference between the two stories? I can tell you what is shockingly the same about the stories: Both countries are torturing their civilians. Please enlighten me as to the difference between a government inflicting emotional and physical abuse within a prison cell and a government inflicting emotional and physical abuse by letting its people die by withholding life-saving health care? Both of these stories are about human rights.

My family is part of the "lucky" bunch, as we "only" have to pay $1,200 in premiums each month to keep our family insured. And yet I don't know how much longer we will be able to continue to pay this exuberant amount of monthly income, as we have already gone through $100,000 of our life's savings in order to have a health care safety net for our family in just the last five years. It is something that our family stresses over every month.

My question is how can we, the wealthiest nation in the world, continue to send billions of dollars oversees for AIDS patients, offer free health care to other countries (i.e. Doctors Without Borders) and not take care of our own? In addition, there are billionaires in this country who think it is of utmost importance to put computers in classrooms and form "think tanks," etc. Yet do they consider caring for their fellow Americans who are dying every day because they have no means by which to purchase life-saving treatments? Don't get me wrong, I think it is all well and good to help impoverished nations, but it is vital that we start at home. It makes no sense to send billions of dollars for health care outside of our country when we turn our backs on the hard-working, low- and middle-class workers of America.

I am further appalled when I think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on designer pet clothing and the millions of dollars spent on Hannah Montana mindless merchandising. Where are people's priorities in this nation? What about donating those dollars so that your American brethren can live? I am so deeply saddened that greed has taken over this once great country of ours, and I am fearful, so very fearful that it will be the demise of all good things possible.

I am asking that every American, with health insurance (don't take it for granted, it could be gone tomorrow) or without health insurance, stand up to our policy makers and say, "NO MORE!" It is time to remove the for-profit, big health care insurers, as well as the corporate pharmaceutical companies that are making billions on our illnesses, and replace them with a Universal Health Plan that guarantees every American — not only the privileged — the right to have quality health care. It will never change if we, as Americans, don't demand it from our government. We must take immediate action. And if you don't think you could be a statistic on 60 Minutes, think again "¦

Katie Larive is a child and family advocate helping to change lives in Oregon. She has lived in Ashland for five years.

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