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!"
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.
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."
"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.