Monday, March 22, 2010

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

One day a few weeks ago, I was walking on the shoulder of a commercial highway in Delaware. The weather was good, the footing less so. You may recall the snow and the ice. And, of course, snow and ice melt in the sun.

I was walking with a group of friends, some old, some new. We were walking the 135 miles from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., to ask Congress to please – finally – pass a health-care reform bill.

It was a good group, with four to eight people walking at any given time. (I had to miss Day 1 because of a prior commitment.) As we walked along, we talked a lot, and we chanted some. “What do we want? Health care!” That sort of thing. But there were also quiet times, when I was left alone with my blisters and my thoughts as we walked down the road.

I found myself thinking of the Wizard of Oz. Or perhaps fantasizing would be a better word. As the cars whizzed past us, I pictured us walking on the Yellow Brick Road, on our way to Oz, where we’d meet the Wizard and get things fixed up. We had several Dorothies. I thought of myself as the Tin Man – quite stiff, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with an oil can. We needed a Toto dog in a basket. We talked about that a lot, but never got one.

We did better in the Wizard department. On Day 8 of our walk, we got to Washington, where we were joined by hundreds of supporters for the last leg, from Union Station to a rally in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

At the rally we were joined by six U.S. Senators – or Wizards, as I prefer to call them. Majority Leader Reid spoke to us, as did Senators Dodd, Harkin, Specter, Casey, and Sherrod Brown.

I was glad to hear their words. We walkers were all very tired, and our feet hurt, but there was a euphoria in that room. I heard later that a “virtual march” on Day 8 had generated 1 million messages – phone, fax, email – to Congressional offices in support of health-care reform.

I did this walk for my children. My wife and I have two, a boy and a girl. They’re both grown now, and living up in New York, where they have good jobs that they really like. My 30-year-old son, though, has a chronic medical condition. Almost all the time, he’s just fine. But on any day he can have a flare-up – without warning – that can land him in his doctor’s office or the emergency room. This is a kid who has to have medical insurance, and on occasion he’s had double coverage just to make sure that there were no gaps as he navigated from college to jobs as a paralegal and then to law school and his current job as a public defender.

Double coverage is expensive, but it’s a small thing compared to what might happen if he lost his insurance. If he loses his job, he won’t be able to get an individual policy because of his pre-existing condition. And in these economically insecure times, who can say that they will not lose their job, or their insurance? Certainly the budgets of public defender offices across the country are being cut, and cut again.

My wife and I talk about these things a lot. She tells me she doesn’t worry so much about his medical condition, because it’s manageable. What keeps her up at night, worrying, is his health insurance.

How have we come to this place in America? I hope the Wizards can fix it. In fact, I’m counting on them.

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