Commentary: Affordable health care should transcend politics

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverSeptember 29, 2012 

If ignorance is indeed bliss, some political operatives apparently live in a state of perpetual happiness.

It’s too bad that some of them also live in our state.

How else, other than ignorance, can one explain the opposition to the “Patients Over Politics” tour that stopped in Durham this month as part of its national effort to publicize the need for affordable health care? Every doctor or administrator with whom I spoke in the sizzling parking lot of Durham’s Lincoln Community Health Center emphasized that the tour, as its name implies, is nonpartisan.

Dr. Alice Chen, executive director of Doctors for America, sponsor of the tour, told the sparse crowd, “Politics aside, let’s put our shoulders to the wheel” and work to ensure that everyone has access to affordable care.

Putting “politics aside” in an election year is as likely as finding a doctor who makes house calls and hands out free lollipops while doing it. The Durham County Republican Party sent a letter to County Manager Mike Ruffin urging him to prohibit the national tour from stopping at Lincoln and accused Democrats of using the county facility for “electioneering.”

“To be blunt,” county GOP Chairman Ted Hicks wrote, “why is the Obama re-election team being hosted on county property?”

He also wrote “Doctors for People ( sic) is just the 2012 name for Doctors for Obama.”

Oy. That supporters of the president are the only ones who care about providing affordable health care is a damning admission for the local GOP to make, don’t you think?

I stood out there basting in 90-plus degree temperatures for nearly an hour, talked to several doctors and administrators, and heard not one word that could be described as purely partisan.

Yet, the heat from political opposition may have been responsible for the underflow crowd that visited the displays set up in the parking lot and got blood pressure screenings, Dr. Cedric Bright said.

Education, Dr. Bright said, was the main focus of the tour, which stopped at both major political parties’ national conventions before arriving in Durham. “We’re just dispensing information today. That’s our prescription. We want you to stay healthy longer rather than get well sooner.”

Whether your heart beats on the left side or the right, it would’ve been touched by the stories told that day. How could it not be touched when Durham resident and Olympic marathoner hopeful Jill Hudgins tells how she fainted one day in a grocery store parking lot, discovered she had a heart condition and then discovered she couldn’t get insurance because of her pre-existing condition?

A provision in what critics call “Obamacare” enabled her to get insurance four years later.

Or when Dr. Chris Hughes, one of the traveling doctors from Pittsburgh, tells this story of a now-dead patient. “He was an engineer who developed a cough,” Dr. Hughes said. “He couldn’t get treated because he had no insurance. ... Six months later, after the cough turned bloody, he finally went to the doctor and was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer.”

By the time he was diagnosed, it was all over but the funeral arrangements.

I wrote last week about the inspirational story of CJ Scarlet, a Raleigh woman whose severe Lupus went into remission after she took a Tibetan monk’s advice and started focusing on the happiness of others instead of on her own ailments.

Darned good advice and perhaps palliative, too. It is, however, no substitute for affordable health care – no matter which party provides it.

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