Organizing for America is sponsoring a "Health Reform Video Challenge": "Create the best 30 second video you can that makes the case for passing health insurance reform in 2009. This is a complex and often personal issue, and there's way more angles to cover than anyone can squeeze into 30 seconds." The top 20 submissions (The deadline was at midnight, last night) will be voted on by the public and a panel of experts -- including celebrities, political experts, and OFA volunteers -- with the winning ad aired on national television (There is no money at stake in this "contest").
Promoting the president's plan -- an excellent, yet necessarily complex initiative, which unfortunately has left a lot of Americans confused -- in just half a minute was indeed a -- worthy -- challenge. I read further and found this very helpful: "President Obama's plan will accomplish three primary goals: Provide more security and stability for the insured; guarantee more quality, affordable choices for the uninsured; and lower the costs of health care for American families, businesses and government."
So I wrote a script, structured around these three themes: making health insurance "available, dependable, and affordable." I needed, in just 30 seconds, to present each one of those solutions as well as each one of the problems crying out for those solutions.
And what could make more of an impression than presenting the names and faces of those who were victims of our current health system? After all, this debate isn't just about politics or statistics; it's about the very real, life-and-death consequences of the status quo, compelling us to reform.
I did my research online, "googling" such phrases as "died no health insurance"; and I located dozens of men, women, and children whose lives lost could represent the 45,000 Americans who die each year because they have no health insurance (My God, what kind of monstrous system have we created?). I found contact information, in public records online, for their next of kin. Although I did not want to bother them, I prayed on the matter repeatedly and sincerely; and particularly after reading our Catholic church bulletin, with its call to "service to ALL," I came to appreciate that I could perform a good service by relating these families' ordeals to the public, in the hope that even in some small way this might help others from having to go through the same thing (as a number of the families would later tell me on their own).
After making phone calls and sending e-mails to them -- a very emotionally trying experience, although I never received an angry response -- I got photos and permissions from eight brave next of kin. These folks have lost so much; but through this project and their own speaking out, as in articles, books, and even appearances before Congress, they are giving back so much, to help others, all of us. As Pres. Obama has said, "ordinary" Americans are truly "extraordinary"!
One family I must single out is the Sarkisyans, who allowed me to come into their home and videotape the mother, Hilda (pictured in my Web site), for the introduction to this video. Although they had health insurance, they lost their beloved 17-year-old daughter, Nataline, when their insurance company denied a liver transplant that her doctors said would give her a 65% chance to live. This horrendous case rightly received a great deal of media attention in 2007. Unfortunately, a little-known law, ERISA, effectively prevents the Sarkisyans -- or any of us -- from suing workplace health insurance plans (exactly what most of the current reform efforts are based on) for denial of treatment: The companies have great financial incentives to deny even life-saving treatments, and there is no real downside. As the Sarkisyans and others are saying, it amounts to "a license to kill" (I will report on this grave injustice in an article online in the near future).
Whether or not this video is one of those selected for further review, I feel honored to have worked with such wonderful people, in all the families represented -- by loss -- in this video. I sincerely mourn the loss of their loved ones: a cross-section of America, in all its priceless humanity. And I hope that those viewing this video will better appreciate both the scope and the depth of the problems we face and, thus, the value of the health insurance reforms being presented by the president and debated in the Congress.
Health care reform has eluded America since Pres. Teddy Roosevelt first mentioned it, at the turn of the previous century. Enmeshed in a system in dire need of change -- killing tens of thousands and bankrupting nearly a million Americans every year, and getting nothing but worse -- we are closer than ever before to insuring nearly universal coverage and controlling out-of-control costs -- particularly if we keep up the fight for the public option.
Reform health care? Yes, we can.
And for the sake of countless others like those shown in this video, yes, we must!