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Don't repeal Americans' health care lifeline

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
December 2, 2011 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: If you're a politician, you are assured of good health care
  • Many Americans can't pay for basics, he says; poverty is linked to bad health
  • GOP ignores crisis, he says, vowing to repeal reform but offering no options
  • Granderson: Health care access has been a problem for 80 years; time to fix it

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @locs_n_laughs

(CNN) -- I had been wrestling with eye redness for weeks. After trying nearly every brand of over-the-counter eyedrops available, I finally decided to see a doctor.

A handful of tests later, the doctor told me he had no idea why my eyes were red. But that didn't stop him from giving me a prescription. 

It was odd he would assign a treatment without a diagnosis, but what choice did I have? Visine was not getting this red out, and well, he is a doctor. So I paid the co-pay and bought the prescription. After it ran out and I still had red eyes, I went to visit another doctor. 

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

He also ran a couple of tests. He also had no idea why my eyes were red. He also gave me a prescription.

Hundreds of dollars spent, and yet I still have no answers or clearer eyes. But I do have an appointment with a third doctor and an allergist. 

I'm not sharing this story to complain. I'm sharing because if you know the average American makes only $33,000 a year -- which, adjusted for inflation, has not changed since 1988 -- or if you know the price of COBRA for a family of four, then you also know why a lot of Americans don't even bother to get on this hamster wheel.

They can't afford to do it.  

Health care law going to Supreme Court
Health care reform and the economy

Medicine is not an exact science; I get that. But what I don't get is what middle-class and working-poor people are supposed to do as they ricochet helplessly between doctors without getting answers -- like pinballs in a business model that thrives on people trying to find out what's wrong.

How do you keep from getting cynical when you know managing an illness is more profitable than curing it or that leaner cuts of meat and organic produce are more expensive than fattier cuts and produce sprayed with chemicals? Nearly one in four children in the United States lives in poverty, and the World Health Organization reports a direct correlation between socioeconomic status and health. So why is the conversation about health, and specifically, health care reform, so toxic? 

And so politicized? 

President Theodore Roosevelt said, "No country can be strong whose people are poor and sick."

Yet the promise each GOP candidate has made is to repeal what he or she calls "Obamacare," with no alternative. Are we meant to pretend the impetus behind the law no longer exists because there's a new sheriff in town? 

To even call health care reform "Obamacare" redirects the conversation away from the most important point: The correlation between socioeconomic status and the mortality rate. Obama doesn't need health care. He and his wife ,Michelle, and their children have access to the best health care on the planet.

The same is true for his well-heeled challengers, such as Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney, as well as many of the people in Congress who are fortunate enough to be in the top 10 % of the nation's earners. They all have access to outstanding health care. 

But what about you? When was the last time you've been to the dentist?

You see, despite the rhetoric, the need for health care reform was not discovered by President Barack Obama in 2009. It did not come from Hillary Clinton in 1992.

Each president, going back as far as Teddy Roosevelt, has talked about the need to address access to and administration of health care. They understood a healthy population is the lifeblood of a country.

Any politician who is touting repeal without offering something significant in its place is not only incapable of connecting the dots, but is out of touch with the kind of sacrifices people make in their health decisions every day. Things such as ignoring reoccurring pains and unusual growths because they can't afford the doctor visit or even the prescription co-pay. 

This week, CBS' "60 Minutes" aired a riveting story about homeless families living in cars in central Florida. One untouched topic was the health of the parents. I wondered what would happen to those children if their parents were to succumb to an illness? Would they end up in the state system? If so, who do you think pays for that?

It's all connected, and a true leader sees that. Mississippi is the the poorest state in the country. It is also the unhealthiest. Most of the 10 poorest states are among the 10 unhealthiest states. They also tend to vote Republican. 

Don't get mad at me; I'm just the messenger. The question is: What are GOP candidates saying when they promise to repeal health care reform but are silent on health care and poverty? 

The health care reform plan is not perfect. But the Constitution wasn't perfect either, which is why we have amendments. The best thing for the national dialogue is to point out what's good about the plan so we have something to build on. In nearly 80 years of the White House talking about health care reform, we finally have something. And we need it. Promising to repeal the whole thing might be good for the polls, but what does it do for the people?  

Because I can promise you, any new president who repeals the law will still have access to the best health care available. That is not true for all of the people who voted that president in.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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