Alaska editorial: Gov't health care will fall short of the mark

Posted: Friday, September 18, 2009

President Barack Obama's speech to the Congress and the public on health care reform last week certainly laid out in definitive terms the challenge facing this country. And yet, the debate rages on between supporters and opponents. Disagreement remains on various details of any final plan: who benefits and who doesn't, who pays and how. And the misinformation, as insidious and wrong-headed as it is, refuses to die completely.

We're hearing an awful lot of loud, authoritative-sounding voices telling us what IS needed in health care and insurance reform. But there seems to be something missing. Whether they are being drowned out amid the noise or are intimidated from speaking out, we aren't hearing enough from those who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of any health care reform - the uninsured, underinsured, the poor.

Where is the groundswell of outrage and raw emotion against what seems to be a self-evident injustice?

Let's look back to the mid-20th century. The civil rights movement was a revolution that grew out of a collective sense of outrage. That outrage manifested itself in a visible, grass-roots manner that was not to be ignored - protest marches, civil disobedience, special interest movements. The aggrieved presented their case on a public stage, and the drama played out in local and national news outlets daily. Certainly, civil rights legislation was vigorously debated in state legislatures and Congress. But while those who already enjoyed equality were debating, those who didn't were taking their demands to the streets.

Now, read the above paragraph and switch out "civil rights" movement to "gender equality." Marches, protests, rallies, sometimes emotionally confrontational, all came straight from Main Street, even while politicians and pundits debated policy.

Making social change happen doesn't grow from legislative debate alone, no matter how righteous or well-meaning. Throughout our history, those who hold the power and eventually pass the laws to affect change are not the ones who ever needed or benefited from it.

That's the case now; members of Congress enjoy enviable health care benefits. They may know the numbers of uninsured and may even have a raft of examples they can refer to.

But they aren't the people who put off seeing the dentist or doctor. They aren't the ones who are bankrupt by medical catastrophe.

Those are the people we should be hearing from, loud and long. Yet the rallies and public protests that seem to dominate this issue are those of the opponents. In the end, if history repeats itself (it usually does), they will win.

Where is the loud and clear voice of those in need of health care change? Where are their protests and rallies? Perhaps some feel they have no voice, or are too sick to speak out. Others may be too ashamed or embarrassed, much like some ranks of unemployed who hide their plight from friends and neighbors in reaction to the social stigma.

But silence is allowing this all-too-important debate for social change to become one-sided in the arena of debate that historically has mattered most - in the neighborhoods and streets of America.

If you are one of those who needs health care, you need to start speaking out. If you know someone who is suffering, vigorously encourage them to make their voices heard.

We must remember this - no monumental shift in public or social policy has ever been effected in this country without an uprising of the masses - an angry and aggrieved group bound by their collective misery and profound need. Unless that group finds its voice, and a way to express itself as well or better than its opponents, it will lose.

And any resulting health care legislation will fall far short of the mark.

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