Listening to the radio earlier this summer, I heard a 59-year-old nurse named Robin Batin testify in the most heart-rending way before the House subcommittee on oversight and investigations, chaired by Representative Bart Stupak. When she developed invasive breast cancer, her insurance company, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, rescinded her coverage because of a pre-existing condition--dermatitis--even though her dermatologist called to say it was acne, not, as the company claimed, a precancerous condition. Stupak confronted the heads of Assurant Health, UnitedHealth and WellPoint with the fact that there are some 1,400 conditions that can be used to cancel a policy, most of them so minor and obscure that the executives had never heard of them. Between 2003 and 2007, the three companies saved $300 million by rescinding at least 19,776 policies. By the time Batin finally got her surgery, her tumor had doubled in size. The Congressmen were shocked--they had no idea. Neither did I. The program? This American Life. I love Ira Glass, but come on, people! "Rescission" should be a word on the tip of everyone's tongue by now.
As of this writing, it is far from clear how much of the vocal opposition to reform represents wider popular feeling and how much is a mobile mob of gun nuts, birthers and teabaggers paid for and organized by lobbyists and Republican outfits like Americans for Prosperity, Conservatives for Patients' Rights and FreedomWorks. Several polls show a majority of Americans still want reform. But polls don't mean much politically if everyone stays quiet. Where's the superb organizing the Obama campaign was famous for? Where's the pushback from the left--for the public plan, or even for single-payer? It may be a non-starter in Congress, despite the upcoming vote on Representative John Conyers's HR 676, but one thing you can say for single-payer--it's easy to explain and to understand.
Oh army of Obama supporters who swarmed the country less than one year ago, we need you back knocking on our doors and sleeping on our sofas. We need you to stand on street corners handing out fliers that explain what healthcare reform is really all about and how people can make sure it doesn't get swallowed whole by the drug and insurance companies. Surely you're not too young and strong and healthy and vegan to care about boring parent stuff like health insurance? The diss on you was always that you were infatuated with Obama's charisma and with vague notions of "change"--not with the long slog of political engagement. That isn't true, though, is it?