The Common Good

I'm Awake at 3 a.m. because My Ribs are Hurting

For 25 years I have been a member of a private health insurance plan that seemed to be meeting my needs. My problems were routine, and so were their responses.

No longer.

Last Friday, I was involved in a moderate auto accident, driving on I-95 south of Philadelphia. My first resting place after the accident was a hospital bed in Chester, Pennsylvania, where I was diagnosed with a fracture of the "Tibia plateau" in my left leg where my leg hit the lower part of the dashboard, and four broken ribs and a broken breastbone where my chest hit the seat belt.

My leg was put in an "immobilizer," with the expectation it would take about eight weeks to heal. The broken ribs make it very hard to use crutches or a walker (because putting weight on my chest HURTS). So my own primary doc and the hospital docs agreed I should go to a rehabilitation center that would focus on physical and occupational therapy to get me quickly strengthened and trained to function well. The rehab people came, looked, and agreed I was the perfect candidate.

But not the health insurance company.

Rehab is too good. Services higher-level than I needed. Costs them more than "skilled nursing," which does PT only one hour a day -- rehab does three. Rehab costs more, reduces insurance-company profits. If I had broken both legs, yes. "BUT," we said, appealing the decision, "remember the ribs? This is hard and painful work. The more intensive time and energy I can put in, the quicker it will be over!"

NOPE.

Now this kind of decision, remember, was what the companies charged would result from a "government-sponsored public option." The government would interfere between me and my doctors. But in tens of thousands of cases, the companies do exactly what they say the government would do. They are insuring not good medicine but high profits. The public option would be able to say, "It's good medicine, and we don't seek a profit. Rehab, quick." They would compete with the private insurers, and keep them honest.

When I told the hospital doc what had happened, he muttered, "What is wrong with us?" Then he said, "Universal health care is what we need." Then he was quiet for a while and muttered again, "There's too much power in too few hands."

"See," I said. "You knew all along what was wrong with us."

Ted Kennedy, the one senator who had so many sick siblings and sick kids that he really understood, died this week. The old saying, "Don't mourn; organize," is wrong. DO mourn -- and organize. Make every moment of your mourning for him a time of organizing, and every moment you spend organizing a time to mourn. Your senators are home this week. Call. Ask them whether, like Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, they are willing to give up their own fancy public health-insurance until a public option exists for everybody in our country.

I'm awake at 3 a. m. because my ribs are hurting. I would be grateful if you would pray for my healing. I would be many times more grateful if you would set aside seven sacred minutes to call your senators to urge them to put a "Public Option" in the health-care bill. If you can't find their home offices, call the U.S. Capitol at 202-224-3121 in Washington, and ask for the senators from your state.

That's the healing we ALL need.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center, author of Godwrestling, Round 2, and co-author of The Tent of Abraham.

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