Did you go to the pop-up clinic at the Charleston Area Convention Center Aug. 23-24? If you did, you were hardly alone. And if you did, you had to get there early and stand in line for hours to see a doctor. People drove for hundreds of miles and started queuing up around midnight for the free medical services which began at 6 a.m. Hundreds were turned away before they were even served.
The clinic offered basic dental care, eye, and other physical exams. It was put on by the S.C. Dental Association, S.C. Mission 2013, the S.C. Hospital Associations, and other volunteer groups. Across the nation, free pop-up clinics are becoming the only source of medical care for millions of Americans who have been left behind by our broken healthcare system.
The world watches in dismay and disgust as the wealthiest nation on the planet, the nation with a defense budget to rival the defense budgets of the rest of the world combined, the nation with more billionaires than any other, this nation of such pride and promise, falls farther and farther behind in its ability to provide basic healthcare to its people.
Why can we not meet our healthcare obligations as every other developed country in the world does? This is the crisis President Barack Obama has tried to address with his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He has encountered only corporate greed and Republican arrogance.
Throughout the ugly GOP rage of 2009, crazed politicians decried the creation of government "death panels," which would decide who would live and die, and warned that Obamacare would destroy the "world's best healthcare system." The claims were so absurd they bordered on delusional. In fact, they were delusional.
The only death panels are the health insurance companies, which regularly limit payouts to critically ill and injured clients and which determined — often retroactively — that certain conditions are "pre-existing" and, hence, not covered by long-standing policies.
As for the "world's best healthcare system," what can I say? We have by far the world's most expensive healthcare, but what do we get for our money? The World Health Organization ranks U.S. healthcare 37th in the world. Our life expectancy is 27th, on a par with Cuba, Chile, Slovenia, and Colombia. Among developed nations, we lead in nine important pathological categories, including infant mortality and low birth weight; adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; heart disease; obesity and diabetes; chronic lung disease; and drug-related deaths.
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies offers several explanations for this human disaster. Here is its first: "Unlike its peer countries, the United States has a relatively large uninsured population and more limited access to primary care. Americans are more likely to find their health care inaccessible or unaffordable."
What we have in the United States — and especially in the Southern states — is essentially a Third World healthcare system. Were we not so proud, we might invite Doctors Without Borders to pay us a visit. But that will never happen. What we lack in compassion and judgment we more than compensate with pride. We are so proud that Gov. Nikki Haley and a number of other GOP governors have rejected federal money to expand Medicaid, which would allow their states to serve more of their indigent sick.
"We believe [healthcare] is a right for all people," Mark Dickson, vice president for mission at Roper St. Francis Healthcare, told The Post and Courier. Apparently Gov. Haley and her GOP colleagues disagree.
At this writing, the P&C has had nothing to say editorially about the pop-up clinic, about why pop-up clinics are needed, or why the one last week left so many people untreated for their pains and illnesses. But the Charleston daily, as it does at least once a week, delivered its editorial wrath against Obamacare on Aug. 27.
The P&C, along with right-wing radio personalities, Fox News, and the GOP mainstream, has been demagoguing this issue for years. This Republican chorus has nothing but rage and ridicule for government efforts to bring healthcare to tens of millions of Americans who cannot afford insurance, cannot afford to see a doctor when they are sick, and cannot afford to go to a dentist when their teeth ache and their gums bleed. But these sanctimonious defenders of free enterprise and individual rights are mute and clueless when asked what they would do for the millions without healthcare.
On Oct. 1, Americans can start signing up for the healthcare exchanges, a crucial early step in implementing the Affordable Care Act. And as they do, Republicans in Washington will be threatening to shut down the government to stop the ACA from fulfilling its mission. But of course, those GOPers don't have to worry about finding a free pop-up clinic the next time they get a toothache.