Columns » Max Brantley

Real people

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I'm optimistic – uncharacteristically – that something good might come of the great debate on health care legislation.

If it does, it will because the people will rule.

Already, there are signs that the insurance lobby and the defenders of million-dollar docs are losing a little  ground. Between their misleading ads and the shrieks of teabaggers, it looked in the heat of summer that the lobbyists had once again put universal health insurance to flight.

But the fight continued. Progressives in Congress and their supporters have soldiered on.  A public health insurance program isn't off Congress' agenda yet.

Reality TV, the non-commercial kind, has helped. In Little Rock, we met the healthy young computer store employee refused coverage by his employer's group plan because he'd once filled out an insurance form incorrectly. He didn't know a minor hemorrhoid complaint should have been listed as a past digestive disorder. We've heard the horror story of the woman who almost died from a horseback riding accident because her insurance company initially balked at covering her emergency  treatment. Even with coverage, the episode bankrupted the family.

Still more reality TV is heading our way. On Nov. 21, at Little Rock's Statehouse Convention Center, the National Association of Free Clinics will hold a one-day free clinic. All comers with medical or dental problems will be welcomed. You need not bring cash or proof of insurance. This nonprofit group helps support a network of free clinics nationwide. It has held mass events before. They dramatize the shame of a wealthy nation that spends more on health care than any other developed nation for worse results and leaves millions uncovered.

The hard, simple arithmetic keeps being overlooked.  It bears repeating: The U.S. spends more than the rest of the developed world for less health coverage and worse outcomes.  Results: People suffer. People die.

Why a clinic in Little Rock? It began with  MSNBC talk show host Keith Olbermann, an unabashed advocate of public health insurance. He started raising money from viewers to support free clinics in states that were home to key legislators. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a foe of a public health insurance plan, was the target in Arkansas. Rep. Mike Ross, another foe of Medicare-style coverage of all America, was a secondary player. Olbermann  raised $1 million in a week.

I echoed Olbermann's call  on the Arkansas Blog last Wednesday night. I encouraged Arkansas politicians to find a venue for the clinic. Lt. Gov. Bill Halter also heard Olbermann's message and went to work. He called me Thursday afternoon to say a venue had been nailed down.

So thanks to the Free Clinics, Olbermann and Halter, national TV cameras will be trained on the medically needy of Arkansas the weekend before Thanksgiving. If it runs to form, tears of joy will be shed by people relieved of toothaches, treated for infections or simply offered the comfort of a medical professional they otherwise couldn't afford.

I've encouraged Sen. Lincoln and Rep. Ross to sign up as clinic volunteers. They find time to meet with high-dollar insurance, medical and pharmaceutical lobbyists. They've happily provided platforms for teabaggers to roar against the evils of government medicine. Let's have them participate in a demonstration of the good that come from medical services where there's no middle man with a Blue Cross badge waving a stop sign at the door.

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