The sick and the disabled pour out of these mountains every summer for their one shot at free health care, but this year was supposed to hold hope for a better solution.
Donald Trump won the White House in part on a promise to fix the nationâ€™s costly and inefficient health-care system. Instead, Republicans in Congress are paralyzed and threatening to dismantle the imperfect framework of Obamacare.
No relief is in sight for someone like Larry McKnight, who sat in a horse stall at the Wise County Fairgrounds having his shoulder examined. He was among more than a thousand people attending the areaâ€™s 18th annual Remote Area Medical clinic, where physicians and dentists dispense free care to those who otherwise have none.
A horse stall? Yes, the poor folks come from many miles away for medical treatment in facilities meant to house livestock at the county fair. Chain link fences and barbed wire add to the ambience.
This is the sort of thing that’s supposed to only happen in third world countries, not that it should happen anywhere.
A third of the patients who registered Friday were unemployed. [Note: Even my feeble math skills tell me that means two thirds ARE employed.] Those who couldnâ€™t afford a room slept in their cars or camped in the fields around the fairgrounds. They lined up in the dead of night to get a spot inside the event.
It is the place of last resort for people who canâ€™t afford insurance even under Obamacare or who donâ€™t qualify for Medicaid in a state where the legislature has resisted expansion.
A lot of people were there for dental and vision services, which usually aren’t covered on Medicaid (although you can get Medicaid with vision and dental in some states). This lady had four rotten teeth pulled:
â€œMy teeth were hurting,â€ she said. McConnell, 63 and disabled, said she had health insurance through Medicaid but no dental coverage.
So this was her dental plan: Sheâ€™d save for six months to afford a motel room and gas, then wait in line in the morning heat to see a volunteer dentist.
Virginians are especially screwed because they don’t have Medicaid.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who flew out to the clinic Friday morning, had invited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to join him but said that the Republican leader â€œpolitelyâ€ declined. McAuliffe, who visits the clinic every year, spent nearly two hours touring it â€” twice as long as scheduled â€” and took every opportunity to proclaim that heâ€™s been trying for three years to get the state legislature to agree to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly has resisted, unlike the legislatures in nearby states, which McAuliffe kept reminding the patients and doctors who crowded around him on the hot fairgrounds. …
…â€œWe need it,â€ called out Tonya Hall, operations director for a hospice-care facility. â€œLet them come and visit some in southwest Virginia. Let them see the poverty. Let them see how we live. Let them come.â€
Let’s go back to our guy in the horse stall.
At 37, with a long graying ponytail, McKnight had never been sick until about eight months ago. So he hadnâ€™t worried too much about not being able to afford insurance on his roughly $18,000 a year in pay as an auto mechanic. But now he was getting a referral to the University of Virginia hospital to check for the source of his pain, which he had vowed to withstand without resorting to opioid medication.
â€œThe normal person doesnâ€™t care about a lot of the things that they care about [in Washington]. Most people want to work, they want insurance and they want to be able to take care of their family without assistance,â€ he said.
The only way to do that, he said, is to have everybody â€” the healthy and the sick â€” paying into a centralized health insurance plan. â€œI really think the only thing that would truly help this country is if it were single-payer,â€ McKnight said.
Now, conventional wisdom in our liberal urban enclaves where Democrats talk only to themselves is that these poor rednecks are too stupid to know what’s good for them, so there’s no point going to them with better ideas. But if the wizards in charge of the Democratic Party had even half a clue, they’d be hiring teams of people to spread out through Appalachia and the rural South and Midwest and rust belt and everywhere else there are pockets of people who desperately need the federal government to step in and help them.
And those teams of people would be saying, look, the Republicans have betrayed you. Donald Trump betrayed you. All the plans they’ve been trying to pass in Washington wouldn’t give you anything and would take away what you gained under Obamacare, just so rich people can get more tax cuts.
This argument would have the power of being the plain truth.
The teams could be reinforced with television and radio ads. It should be a major blitz. And they should boldly talk about single payer, or Medicare for All, or whatever they want to call it. They should borrow from Ross Perot’s old playbook and go about with colorful graphs showing how much more the U.S. spends on health care than anybody else, because our system is a profit-taking mess. “See, people, it’s just this simple …” And don’t let Republicans scare anyone with lurid tales of “socialized medicine.”
People are already standing in line to get medical treatment in horse stalls. How much worse could it get?
But Democrats aren’t doing that. Because they’re losers. It’s to his credit that Gov.Â McAuliffe was there, but he doesn’t seem to want to go beyond preserving Obamacare.