If the great healthcare debate of 2008 had a poster child, it would be Eric De La Cruz. Eric didn't get to dress up in a revolutionary war costume or wave around a "Don't Tread On Me" flag like the mostly healthy, mostly insured people that showed up at town hall meetings all across the country in an effort to protect us from the tyranny of health care security that year. Making an effort to ensure our lives would never be placed in the hands of an uncaring bureaucracy. That no American citizen would face a death panel. Making sure that never happened was the great debate that introduced most of us to Tea Party was all about. Eric wasn't into the theatrics of these meetings though. He never shouted down a member of Congress or waved around signs of President Obama with a Hitler mustache. As far as I know, he never even went to any of those town halls. He was too busy fighting for his life. He was a normal enough kid with a normal enough life, except that he ended up 27 years old and with severe dilated cardiomyopathy. Bad news the dilated cardiomyopathy is. Those of you in the professions already know this means his heart would get progressively weaker until it was either transplant or death. Eric was sick, and he was ready to do everything he could to get better. Had he been born in Toronto, or London, or Paris, or Tokyo, that would be the end of this story. Eric had the bad taste to be born in the United States though, where no private insurance company was gonna touch a kid with major heart troubles with a ten foot pole. Eric was placed on Nevada Medicaid.
"Oh, well that sounds like the end of the story then," you might be saying.
Nope. Because Eric was also rude enough to reside in Nevada, where there are no heart transplant centers. Nevada Medicaid will not pay for out of state care. So Eric would just have to die. Two times a court of law told Eric he was just gonna have to die. I'm not kidding.
Good thing those Tea Partiers are ever vigilant against the appearance of any death panels.
That's what happens in the hodge-podge blend of senseless private for profit and 50 separate state government run except for the parts that aren't government run programs that we call a health care system in this country. If you're in the wrong place with the wrong problem you just have to die, even if you could have lived on the other side of the state line.
If Eric could get covered through Medicare, the federally run health care plan that offers universal coverage for the nation's oldest and sickest citizens for far less overhead than private plans, he could get back to only worrying about if a compatible heart would become available and the monumental task that is recovering from having a major organ ripped out of your body and replaced. Fortunately for Eric, Medicare is overseen by politicians and not CEOs. Politicians need votes, and when Eric's sister raised a ruckus about the screwing her brother was getting, the politicians realized letting one of their constituents die so publicly might not be the best way to get those votes they need. Eric was granted Medicare coverage. So thanks to his sister and the national socialized medicine part of our health care system, he had a chance.
It shouldn't have been necessary. The ruckus raising. You shouldn't have to have a sister like Eric's to have a chance to live. Because not everyone has a sister like Eric's, who was a journalist at CNN and managed to form a "twitter army" of supporters to raise awareness and money for his cause. The band Nine Inch Nails got involved, and while I've never thought of their lead singer Trent Reznor as a warm and fuzzy kind of a guy, I'm glad he did.
I'm infuriated he had to though. You shouldn't have to have connections to a rock star in order to have a chance to live. I don't care who you are, if you're lying in a hospital bed and your heart is struggling to keep you alive, and if there is a therapy that has a good chance of keeping you in this world, what kind of sick barbarians would stand in the way? What kind of society would look a 27 year old kid in the eye and tel him the rules of the bureaucracy mandate that he'll just have to die?
Ours. We told him that twice. God bless America.
You, and me, and Eric, and everyone else in this country deserve a hell of a lot better.
Or should I say, Eric deserved a whole lot better. The sister that was a TV journalist and the rock star did manage to finally get Eric into a hospital, but he never made it out. By the time he got there he wasn't healthy enough to have transplant surgery. Eric died in July of 2009. Many people you have never heard of have no doubt died preventable deaths since.
And will continue to do so. Because after all the Tea Partying, after all the meetings and shouting and gnashing of teeth and scare tactics and politicking and bill passing and a grand ceremony in the Rose Garden, the same thing would happen to Eric today. He would still end up on Nevada Medicaid with the only heart transplant centers on the other side of a state line. After all the effort that went into reforming our system nothing would have changed for Eric. Of for anyone in Eric's situation who doesn't have a media-savvy relative.