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September 10, 2009

Heckled Woman in Wheelchair has a Message: An Exclusive Interview

By Chaz Valenza

You may have seen this event on MSNBC or You Tube: At one of the many notorious August town hall meetings, a woman in a wheelchair ignores a barrage of heckling and stoically reads a brief statement in favor of health care reform. I wanted Ms. Hoynes to have a real chance to speak her mind. She has a lot to say and her story is timely. Please take a few moments to hear her out.

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Ocean Grove, NJ

You may have seen this event on MSNBC or You Tube: At one of the many notorious August town hall meetings, a woman in a wheelchair ignores a barrage of heckling and stoically reads a brief statement in favor of health care reform.

Marianne Hoynes of Ocean Grove, NJ read on as Congressman Frank Pallone strained to hear her. A man booed incessantly, eyes closed rocking in his seat. Others repeatedly shouted the demand that she, “Ask a question!”


Marianne Hoynes: Shouted Down - Speaking Out


In the end, the left wing pundits picked up on the opposition's blatant incivility and the terror of this ugly vignette.

Marianne got through her statement, but her message was lost. She told me that during the entire two hours of the town hall session there was no real discussion of health care issues, no exchange of ideas, no questions intelligent enough to be answered with a rational response.

I wanted Ms. Hoynes to have a real chance to speak her mind. She has a lot to say and her story is timely. Please take a few moments to hear her out.

At 43 years old in 2005, Marianne was generally healthy. She did weight training two hours a day, five times a week at a local gym. But, a skin rash caused by Granuloma Anulare, a chronic viral disease that is usually asymptomatic, was spreading over her body, joint by joint.

In 2006, she moved to South Carolina for a year during which she curtailed her work-out regiment and her health took a sudden tumble. Apparently, her strenuous exercise routine was masking an underlying illness. Now, the pain and stiffness was impossible to ignore.

Today, at age 47, she has been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sjogren's Syndrome, both associated with autoimmune dysfunction confirmed by high levels of antinuclear antibody (ANA). Chronic back problems now limit her ability to walk. She is being diagnosed for treatment of herniated disks. She hopes this problem is not associated with her autoimmune condition as then it would be acute and untreatable.

Youthful health to critical illness in a matter of three years, it could happen to any of us and it does happen to many of us.

“This country is a completely different place to live in when you get sick,” she stated at the Congressman Frank Pallone's town hall. “Please protect me from the extortion of the pharmaceutical giants.”

In our conversation she elaborated. “The minute I was diagnosis it was like the medical system strapped on the feed bag.” She described how, even though she has Medicare, her medical costs are nearly $10,000 per year.

“I made a big mistake when I became eligible for Medicare,” she explains. “I had six months to purchase a supplemental plan and didn't know it, and now that I'm sick no private insurer will cover me.” The next chance she will have to purchase private supplemental Medicare insurance will be her sixty-fifth birthday.

She told me how the new biological drug Enbrel worked wonders after being bedridden for two summer months last year. But when the free samples ran out she was unable to afford the $600 per month co-pay for the drug that was priced at $1,600 per month. “I've chatted with people in other countries and these drugs are available and affordable. The world is watching us have this debate and they find it appalling.”

One of the drugs Marianne now takes costs $389 every two weeks. Marianne believes medical care is a human right and she doesn't buy the argument that a government sponsored insurance program is socialist. “We all pay in. It's much more a fee for service.” Medicare's out-of-pocket payments are similar to private insurance plans: a premium, a deductible, co-pays and don't forget that Medicare Part D, the prescription drug program, is purchased from private insurance companies and has that huge “donut hole” in its coverage.

“In other countries, people don't spend two months sick in bed,” says Marianne. “Their medical care is accessible and affordable enough that they can get the care they need when they need it.”

When we talk about health care reform being watered down, Marianne worries. “What scares me most about any compromise that doesn't have a public option is the idea that everyone is forced to buy private health insurance, giving the insurance companies tens of millions of new customers to prey on.”

It was an ordeal for Marianne to make her public statement. She waited two hours to participate in the second of three sessions held by Congressman Pallone of New Jersey. While she waited, protesters chanted, “Hands off health care,” and “Don't kill Grandma.”

“It would have been one thing to speak in a situation where the audience was respectful. But to speak about something painful and personal in front of a crowd of screaming maniacs was quite another.”

“I was exhausted from the two hour wait and I considered not speaking, but I was just tired of taking it silently. I shut them out. I forced myself not to cry while I was reading my statement.”

Though Congressman Pallone stated clearly at the start of the session that anyone could ask a question or make a statement, Marianne was peppered by people yelling “Ask a question!” during her less than three minutes at the microphone.

“You don't cry in front of bullies, right?” she says with a dose of pride.

Marianne told me that about two-thirds of the crowd was opposed to health care reform. “People were told to state their names and where they were from. A lot of the people were from out-of-state. They were bused to the event.”

According to Marianne, there was no discussion of the pending House legislation. “People would take the microphone and ask Congressman Pallone if he read the bill, even though he had stated several times he helped write the bill,” she recalled. “Others told the Congressman he was a domestic terrorist.”

“If you were there to learn about what was in the health care reform bill,” she laments, “you learned nothing.”

What would she tell President Obama? “We elected him with a lot of hope. I want to know, where is the audacity? Sometimes compromise is not the answer. Dr. King would never have settled for upgraded seats in the back of the bus.”



Submitters Bio:

Chaz Valenza is writer and small business owner in New Jersey. He earned his MBA from New York University's Stern School of Business. His current feature film project is "Single Point Failure" an insider's account of how the Reagan Administration caused the greatest tragedy of the space age based on Richard C. Cook's book "Challenger Revealed." He is a former Director of Public Information for Planned Parenthood of NYC. His website is: www.WordsWillNever.com

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