America needs universal health care

Instead we focus on a technological glitch in a moral problem.

click to enlarge America needs universal health care - Jeanne Meinke
Jeanne Meinke
America needs universal health care

What are we waiting for, assembled in the public square?
The barbarians are to arrive today.
Why such inaction in the Senate?
Why do the Senators pass no laws?

A friend asked why I haven’t written about the Obamacare fiasco. “You mean the Affordable Care Act?” I said.

“Whatever,” he said, knowing he’s won that battle already. The Republicans are good at nasty nomenclature, like “nattering nabobs of negativism.” How about “neanderthal neocons of nitpicking”? (Fun, and we’re only using the “n-words,” which they’re fond of.)

This is a fiasco half caused by technical incompetence and half by sabotage. In a split country, 50 percent of those who should be helping to implement the law — governors, politicians, insurance execs — are trying to derail it. President Obama should have expected this, and appointed a lot better techies. Millions of people, including me, can hardly order a book on-line, not to mention a complicated insurance policy. In Republican-led states like Florida, applicants have to move around road blocks crouching in their way like defensive linebackers.

But here’s the thing. In the long run, this fiasco doesn’t matter: America needs universal health care. Period. We’ve been waiting, and we can wait some more while it gets fixed.

We’re the wealthiest country in the world — we have over 13 million millionaires (389,000 in New York City alone!) — and more are sprouting like dandelions. At the same time, the number of poor people is growing faster, too. Who would have thought?

Almost 49 million Americans live in poverty, with 47 million of them uninsured. Hunger’s serious in this country — and in this region: 3,890 homeless people live in Pinellas County alone. Large-hearted citizens in our own neighborhood are constantly collecting food for the hungry, but the single best thing we could do for these people is to get them insured under the Affordable Care Act.

To many Republicans, these people are lazy deadbeats living on our tax money (unlike subsidized millionaire farmers, and billionaires stacking their money overseas). Most of the poor are children or low-wage workers, and most of the others are sick; and thousands of the sick are veterans, who got sick while fighting for their country.

One of the most memorable moments of my activities as St. Pete’s Poet Laureate was when I led a poetry workshop for the homeless, in a windowless downtown room near St. Anthony’s Hospital. All of their poems were sad, but one poem, written by a haggard rail-thin black veteran, broke my heart because it was so patriotic, a long list of what he had loved and lost, including his country. I thought, We’ve ruined this man, and abandoned him.

The GOP has been working fanatically to wreck and derail the Affordable Care Act, and along with that, eliminate programs like food stamps that really help real people. (Paul Krugman calls this “economic self-mutilation.”) These people who are hurt are poor, uninsured and, if they had the energy to pull a lever, would probably vote Democratic, so it’s win/win for Governor Scott. But this is a technological glitch in a moral problem, and Obama needs to keep the techies focused until it works smoothly. It’s already succeeding in states as different as California and Kentucky, so this can be done. Ignore the Tea Party’s rantings, and keep those heads down.

The test is, does Uncle Sam still have a heart? Do we? Get out those stethoscopes. We’ve been waiting for decades.

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
What further laws can the Senators pass?
When the barbarians come they will make the laws …

—Both quotes from “Expecting the Barbarians” by Cavafy (1863-1933), from The Complete Poems of Cavafy, Harcourt Brace & World, Inc.

Scroll to read more Local Arts articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.