Universal Health Care Now!

What would make a successful writer and artist, daughter of a Cuban exile who has no illusions about the kind of government that exists there right now, be willing to move to Cuba and not come back? How about massive heart disease?

For the past month, I have been in and out of the hospital for problems with my heart. The pain and issues came up suddenly, around Jan. 1. After many tests, doctors have determined that I have three leaky heart valves, an enlarged left atrium, and resultant arrhythmias. The arrhythmias are nearly constant, and terrifying.

That, sadly, is the good news. The bad news is, I don't have health insurance. I can't afford it, as a self-employed person supporting a family of three. Even if I got a job with insurance now, or if I bought private insurance, it is unlikely any of this would be covered because it would be a pre-existing condition.

The bad news? I probably need open-heart surgery to correct the valves, at a cost of about $45,000 per valve. I don't have that kind of money.

My family and I are very seriously considering moving to Cuba, where medical care is free. As the daughter of a Cuban exile, I am a dual citizen of the United States and Cuba. It is incredible to me that a nation as poor as Cuba would be able to treat me for free, while my own rich nation, to which I have contributed so much, would let me die.
Ms. Valdes-Rodriguez is lucky in a way--she has an option, questionable as it might be. Lots of people don't, and for this sort of thing, an emergency room visit won't cut it, former President Bush's protestations notwithstanding.

Ms. Valdes-Rodriguez is hardly the only person in a situation like this. As of 2006, there were 47 million uninsured people in the US, and many of those who have insurance have crappy insurance that doesn't cover much, especially in the case of catastrophic illness. Of those 47 million, over 57% are employed, and nearly a quarter make between $20K and $40K a year. We're not talking about people who would be covered by existing government programs--we're talking about working class people in a lot of cases.

Sometimes, when we look at numbers like those, it's easy to be overwhelmed by them, to fail to get a sense of just how many people that is. So it's good to look at individual circumstances every once in a while. Look at Alisa Valdes-Rodrigues, read her story, and then call your Congressperson and say that it's beyond time that we had universal health care in this country.

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