A Health Care Conversation Opener

A North Carolina blogger cuts through the chaff

If bloggers are the new citizen journalists, then it’s good to see citizens talking about health care. Not always, actually—there is no shortage of blog bombast about the candidates or their health-care proposals, and way too much nasty commentary. But it’s refreshing to find examples that provide insight into the thoughts and concerns of an ordinary Americans about the problem. And a particularly good one, written in the form of an open letter to the candidates, was posted on the Western Carolina University Graduate Student Association Blog by a student named Nathan Marshburn. Marshburn is not a journalist. He is not caught up in the pseudo-objectivity of he said-she said quotes; he needn’t worry about scribbling down the words of pre-packaged stump speeches; he seems freed from horse race politics. He just tells it like it is from the point of view of a health care user and citizen.

With clarity and poignancy, Marshburn explains why health care needs fixing:

“I see aunts and uncles who lost the terrific jobs they had in the 1980s, and who now struggle to find work that offers a decent benefits package. I see family members and friends who some months go without medication they need because their insurance will not provide the coverage, and they can not afford the out-of-pocket expense. I see friends and family members who are denied coverage by insurance companies due to pre-existing conditions, or I see them offered a premium that is far too much for them to afford. I also personally know the uncertainty and bad feeling that come when I unexpectedly lose health care coverage and worry that years of savings could be wasted and bankruptcy inevitable if someone hits me with their car, or I get sick while I try to find a company that will cover me.”

Marshburn asks the candidates to study and copy the systems that work—“the best examples in Europe,” he says, “the United Kingdom, France, Germany.” He does not understand why fear of “socialized medicine” is such an issue for conservatives in the United States. Marshburn tells us that his family came from England in the 1600s, his great-great-grandfather fought at Pickett’s charge, and a great-grandfather carried messages across enemy lines in World War I. The military is important to him, but he talks of the trade-offs between more (and useless) military spending and the funding needed to provide health care for everyone. “No citizen of America should be denied health care due to cost. The government owes the people that,” he says. “We will probably also have to raise taxes to win this fight in overhauling health care, but I for one am willing to pay higher taxes when it comes to peace of mind about health care for myself and my family.”

Marshburn’s post taps into the yearning that Americans are showing during this election season for leaders who will step up to the challenge of leading on such a pressing problem. They are looking for something different and, as Marshburn writes, a candidate who “must fight through the special interests and the lobbyists who represent a small percentage of the wealthiest Americans.” He evokes our great presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and challenges the candidates to leave a legacy that ranks with theirs. He challenges North Carolina’s senators Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr not to be a “Senator NO” and leave their stamp on health care as well. “I am asking you to do what is right for the masses, not those who are your largest campaign contributors.”

Marshburn’s post is simple and direct, and worth reading and pondering in the context of the health care debate—a debate which so far has been fenced in by limited parameters of acceptable discourse.

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Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR's healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. She also blogs for Health News Review. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.