How Many More Melanies Must Die Before We Have Health Care Reform?

Isaiah J. Poole

Getting health care reform done in 2009 might not have saved the life of Melanie Shouse, who died of breast cancer last month at the age of 41. But what we do know is that the lives of thousands of other women like her are at risk because, one year after Congress and the Obama administration began working on health care reform, legislative progress is gridlocked. And, as Melanie’s friends and family know, gridlock equals death.

Her story has inspired organizers around the country associated with Health Care for America Now to dedicate Wednesday as a day of health care action designed to send the message that Congress should listen to the people on health care reform, not the insurance companies. Dozens of protests and other activities are being planned to break the deadlock that has been created not by progressives—as Republicans and Democrats such as departing Sen. Evan Bahy have been alleging—but by conservatives and their co-conspirators in Congress who have been taking their marching orders from the insurance industry and other health care business interests.

The anchor event is a march from Philadelphia to Washington by friends and supporters of Melanie. That march is timed to arrive in Washington just before President Obama’s planned bipartisan health care summit at the White House.

People’s World writer Tony Pecinovsky spoke to Melanie before she died:

“When I first noticed a small lump on my breast, denial seemed the only option,” Ms. Shouse told this news site at a Jobs with Justice, MO State Workers’ Union rally held outside of a Department of Social Services office here. …

When she first found the lump in her breast she didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t afford the $5,000 deductible her catastrophic health insurance policy required.

“For weeks after diagnosis,” Melanie told me, “I was in a state of near panic regarding how I would pay for treatment. I had no savings and no real assets, and no idea how I was going to cover these monumental co-pays and deductibles.”

“And with this prize-winning pre-existing condition, I had no opportunity to seek a better private health plan. I was shut out of the market,” she concluded.

Ms. Shouse, like many people throughout the nation, faced a recalcitrant and irresponsible health care system. She faced a system that cared more about profits than life. And until the end, Melanie bravely faced that system and spoke truth to power.

At a health care rally last November, Ms. Shouse said, “we need to take on the big insurance monopoly and liberate American families from the slavery of skyrocketing insurance premiums and canceled coverage, which leave millions of us in a state of perpetual fear and insecurity…”

Marc Stier, a publicist for Melanie’s March, wrote on the march’s official site:

Melanie did everything she could to fight for health care, not just for herself, but for all of us. President Obama, who knew Melanie as a volunteer on his campaign, said: “She was fighting that whole time not just to get me elected, not even to get herself health insurance, but because she understood that there were others coming behind her who were going to find themselves in the same situation and she didn’t want somebody else going through that same thing.” It was a long road for Melanie, but she never gave up.

A lot of us are frustrated that, after mobilizing for over a year to reform health care, rein in Wall Street, create good jobs, win workers’ rights, and combat global warming, we are still waiting for the change we voted for. But we’re not giving up either.

Earlier today, Campaign for America’s Future co-director Roger Hickey urged the organization’s activists to participate in Wednesday’s activities and to support Melanie’s March.

“Last week, we learned that in 2009, during the worst recession this country has seen in generations, the insurance companies posted record profits and cut millions of people from their rolls. They’ll stop at nothing to kill health care reform, and their Republican buddies are eager to help them,” Hickey wrote.

“Congress needs to hear us loud and clear. No more excuses. We voted them into office for a reason—to bring change, and that starts with guaranteeing everyone quality, affordable health care. We’ve got to stand up and make sure they don’t turn back now, not when we’re so close.”

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