Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Obama, Person to Person

Personalizing an issue is an old ploy, but Barack Obama has reminded so many of us why we put him in the White House.

Rallying support for health care, the President pressed the case of Natoma Canfield, a 50-year-old Ohio cancer patient. He had used her letter to him at a meeting with health insurers, and now he was telling a crowd:

"She’s self-employed, she’s trying to make ends meet, and for years she’s done the responsible thing...bought her health insurance through the individual market.

"And it was important for her...because 16 years ago, she was diagnosed with a treatable form of cancer. And even though she had been cancer-free for more than a decade, the insurance companies kept on jacking up her rates, year after year.

"So she increased her out-of-pocket expenses. She raised her deductible...she didn’t want to be in a position where, if she did get sick, somebody else would have to pick up the tab…

"But despite that, Natoma’s insurance company raised her premiums by more than 25 percent. And over the past year, she paid more than $6,000 in monthly premiums. She paid more than $4,000 in out-of-pocket medical costs, for co-pays and medical care and prescriptions. So all together, this woman paid $10,000--one year. But because she never hit her deductible, her insurance company only spent $900 on her care...

"Now, what comes in the mail at the end of last year? A letter telling Natoma that her premiums would go up again by more than 40 percent."

The climax of Obama's story is that, in January, she had to let her insurance lapse, and last week she collapsed and was diagnosed with leukemia.

Now, under all this public scrutiny, the Cleveland Clinic is saying it "will not put a lien" on Ms. Canfield's home, while seeking public assistance to help cover her costs.

Two years ago, while running for president, Obama talked about a young white woman who worked for his South Carolina campaign.

Explaining why they were there, Ashley Baia had told volunteers that when she was nine, her mother was stricken with cancer, lost her health care and filed for bankruptcy and that she "convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat."

"She did this for a year until her mom got better," Obama said, "and she told everyone...the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too."

When it was the turn of an elderly black man to explain why he was there, he answered, "I'm here because of Ashley."

That experience typified his campaign, Obama said then: “'I’m here because of Ashley.' By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough...But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger."

Since then, our union has failed to grow stronger, but despite stumbles along the way, we have a President who has held onto his humanity and is still here for the Ashley Baias and Natoma Canfields.

"To save one life," says the Talmud, "is as if you have saved the world."

Barack Obama is still trying.

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