Change of Heart

Good news for once about our tempestuous health care debate. While the brats inside the Beltway distract everyone with their school yard scrapping, others are out there are making positive change. Here’s a couple of examples:

Former top insurance executive Wendell Potter had a change of heart after attending the premiere of Michael Moore’s damning film about the health care industry, “Sicko”, in 2007. As head of corporate communications for a major insurance company he was there to gather ammunition for a publicity blast against the film. Instead, he found himself agreeing with many of its premises. He realized, he said, that executives in the insurance industry, although not bad people, had become so overshadowed by the corporate bottom line they had forgotten about the people they were supposed to be helping.

After taking early retirement Potter went public this year with his concerns, testifying before a Senate committee monitoring insurance industry practices. In doing so, he lost all chance of further employment in his profession. “It was the scariest thing I have done in my life,” he said. “But it was the right thing to do.”


Last month, non-profit group Remote Area Medical held a free medicine camp at the LA Forum in Los Angeles. Founded by Stan Brock, a 72-year-old former British public schoolboy and one-time presenter of the popular animal TV show Wild Kingdom who quit his celebrity lifestyle in 1985 to "make people better", the organization bills itself as the “Pioneers of No-Cost Health Care” and runs such free medical camps all over the world. Thousands of people lined up for treatment in LA (we are so much need of help that we rank equal with poor countries such as Guyana). According to Britain’s The Independent newspaper:

“Doctors, dentists and therapists volunteer their time, and resources to the organization. To many US medical professionals, it offers a rare opportunity to plug into the public service ethos on which their trade was supposedly founded. "People come here who haven’t seen a doctor for years. And we’re able to say ‘Hey, you have this, you have this, you have this’," said Dr Vincent Anthony, a kidney specialist volunteering five days of his team’s time. "It’s hard work, but incredibly rewarding.”

Brock himself, the article continues, has “no money, no income, and no bank account. He spends 365 days a year at the charity events, sleeping on a small rolled-up mat on the floor and living on a diet made up entirely of porridge and fresh fruit. In some quarters, he has been described, without too much exaggeration, as a living saint.”

(Ref: newspaper

(What I love about Brock’s story is that his organization (whether by intention or just plain serendipity) goes by the acronym RAM, the name of the ancient god king in India who during his reign 10,000 years ago is reported to have brought perfect health to all his subjects).

I recently finished re-reading one of my all-time favorite books, The Last Barrier by Rashed Field, a former folk singer and antiques dealer, in which he recounts his journey to find enlightenment among the Sufi sheiks of Turkey. Towards the end of his story, his teacher Hamid comments that, “Before this new world can be brought into being…it is said that there are to be two confrontations. The first confrontation will be between those who know and those who don’t want to know, and the second between those who know and those who will have to know.”

In terms of health care in America, we are probably still struggling with the first scenario. But the above stories give me hope we are inching into stage two. The people involved have chosen through their actions to make a difference. Now it’s up to us to join them in showing our leaders what they have to know in order to bring about real change.

PS. For those who may still be wary of so-called socialized medicine, here are some interesting statistics comparing health care in UK and America:

Health spending as a share of GDP
US 16%
UK 8.4%

Public spending on healthcare (% of total spending on healthcare)
US 45%
UK 82%

Health spending per head
US $7,290
UK $2,992

Practising physicians (per 1,000 people)
US 2.4
UK 2.5

Nurses (per 1,000 people)
US 10.6
UK 10.0

Acute care hospital beds (per 1,000 people)

US 2.7
UK 2.6

Life expectancy:
US 78
UK 80

Infant mortality (per 1,000 live births)

US 6.7
UK 4.8

(Source: WHO/OECD Health Data 2009).