I’m one of the lucky people in this world who has a Monday through Friday job. Every weekend off. Nevertheless, ten, fifteen years ago, I spent many Saturdays getting up early, getting to the office, and working for four to six (or even eight) hours. I was convinced that there were many things to do, and the quiet Saturday surroundings would help me tackle those without the distractions of the phone or people coming to my desk all the time. It was a lot of extra work for exactly zero reward. It’s a long story about how I got here, but I’m happy to say that I don’t do that anymore.
Instead, this past Saturday, I got up early, drove to the Washington, D.C. suburbs, and caught the Metro into the District. I am even happier to say that this effort was more than worth it.
Saturday, April 1st marked zero hour for March for Health, the culmination of a nationwide effort to rally for health care as a human right. In cities large and small, people gathered, signs in hand, purpose in mind, to share their concern that the discussion on health care needs to result in affordable, accessible, equitable care for everyone.
I was a very small part of the D.C. march, which made its way to Upper Senate Park on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol a little after 12:30 Saturday afternoon. I was fortunate enough to speak for about six and a half minutes, trying to help the audience focus on the fact that there are many of us out there living with chronic conditions, and collectively, we are making a difference. The text of my speech is at the bottom of this post.
But first, I want to congratulate march organizers, two of whom were interviewed here last week on the podcast. Many of the march leaders had never put anything like this together before. Wherever they were, they worked extremely hard to gather volunteers, keep everyone informed about places and times, get parade permits, do outreach, and solicit media coverage. When you consider where this movement started in late January, their accomplishments have been astounding. I couldn’t be prouder to have been a part of what they created.
One more thing: I fear we will need more marches, more e-mails, more people speaking about the importance of getting the insurance, care, drugs, therapy, and the rest that all of us living in my country deserve. In that respect, March for Health is just a beginning, but an important beginning, and a clear indication that there are many who are willing to stand up for what’s important to everyone.
Now, the speech. I’m including a couple of extra photos of my own after. If you read this space regularly, you might notice that I plagiarized myself a couple of times here. I started out talking about my diabetes, but tried to bring it around to the fact that everyone lives with or loves someone who lives with a chronic condition like mine. As a unified group, we can affect policy, and even elections. Here we go:
Hello… my name is Stephen Shaul.
I’ve lived with Type 1 diabetes for 26 years. My daily life is an endless stream of glucose checks, math calculations, and insulin injections. I wear an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor. I see an endocrinologist, who devises strategies to help me live the best life I can with this disease.
But you know, that doesn’t make me unique in this country. More than 29 million people in the United States live with diabetes. Heck, as chronic conditions go, I’m not even unique in my own family. My spouse lives with A-Fib, my mother lives with COPD, my father is a cancer survivor. One of my brothers in Ohio has five children, one of which lives with Asperger’s Syndrome. In fact, three of his kids have tested somewhere on the autism spectrum.
And that’s the thing. You know, I’ll bet that if we could somehow get all of America into one room and ask the question, do you or a loved one live with what some would call a “pre-existing condition”, just about every hand in the room would go up.
That’s why there was so much resistance to the American Health Care Act. People from every part of the health care spectrum weighed in to say that regardless of their political leanings, they and their loved ones come first. With one loud voice they stood up and said, when it comes to what’s really important, people are always more important than profit.
All over this country, Republicans and Democrats have children living with diabetes. Liberals and Conservatives have spouses and partners who have to manage their rheumatoid arthritis every single day. In every corner of this land, card-carrying members of the GOP, and the party of the New Deal, and Independents too, have parents who need and deserve access to things like flu shots and mammograms.
So when the opposition began to build against AHCA, it wasn’t all based on opposition to repeal and replace. It wasn’t all about policy and tax credits.
Instead, it was opposition to taking away protections for our loved ones, shoving them into high-risk pools that would cover very little, if any, of the drugs, treatment and technology they are afforded today.
It was opposition from people who already pay thousands of dollars per year to stay alive, saying that they shouldn’t have to pay thousands more for premiums, then pay even more on top of that because those premiums wouldn’t cover as much as they’re being covered for today.
It was opposition to, as our Nashville march organizer told me this week, being one lab test result away from being deemed uninsurable.
When the people most dear to you are in danger of losing their protections of access to treatment, insurance, drugs, and therapy, we all understand: the stakes are life and death. What’s been missing from lawmakers is the acknowledgement that those who do want to repeal and replace, and those who don’t want to repeal and replace, all have children, spouses, partners, and parents who need and deserve care. We all have the same needs, and the number one need of all is to keep ourselves and our loved ones alive. The number two need is to stay as healthy as possible without going broke.
So you know what? We’re not unique! There are millions upon millions upon millions of us in this country. Together, we made the phone calls, we sent the e-mails, we attended Congressional town hall meetings. And our efforts worked. Our elected officials responded. They pulled the legislation.
And if we have to, we will do it again!
Now, we’re hearing that the people who work in this building behind me are considering another try at health care reform. As they do, we need to be sure they understand that if they’re talking about doing something different with health care in the USA, the end result MUST BE BETTER for all Americans than the law it seeks to replace. All Americans, including and especially the millions most affected by changes to existing law.
No, we’re not unique… but we’re powerful. We can and we have influenced Congress. We can sway elections.
So… when Congress starts talking about “repeal and replace” again, make sure they know:
It cannot be repeal and deny.
It cannot be repeal and bankrupt.
It cannot be repeal and left for dead.
Last time I checked, people weren’t dying in the streets from Obamacare. Hospitals aren’t going bankrupt due to the Affordable Care Act. As the debate on health care goes on, let’s remember those most dear to us, who might also be living with a chronic condition. For me, that’s my wife. My parents. My nieces and nephews. My friends living with chronic conditions. If their needs aren’t met, my needs aren’t met.
Let’s face it: We’re now talking about cars that can drive themselves and using drones to deliver packages to our homes. Meanwhile, lawmakers have relegated healthcare to a yes you can, no you can’t series of decisions like a political football. Friends, that’s 20th Century thinking in a 21st Century world. And it’s a 19th Century way of thinking when it comes to doing what is best for the people living with chronic conditions like mine.
Let’s remind those who still don’t get it that any new healthcare legislation needs to provide more care. It needs to cost less. It needs to help save more lives. As the debate on health care continues, let’s keep the focus right where it belongs: on American lives.