By Joe Conason
In the wake of yet another well-armed madman killing and maiming innocent Americans, we are again rediscovering the malign influence of the NRA (correctly described by Alan Berlow as the criminals’ lobby). But the political salience of the Aurora tragedy extends beyond the usually sterile argument over gun control.
Among the casualties there happens to be a young family whose plight illustrates another hotly debated national disgrace: the absence of universal health coverage.
In the audience that night sat Caleb Medley and his very pregnant wife, Katie, who had come out for the first showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora. Like many expecting couples, they were enjoying a last small fling, bracing for the months to come when date nights at the movies would no longer be possible. Caleb is an aspiring comedian who has worked at Walmart and Target, while Katie is studying to become a veterinary technician. Within a few days, the high-school sweethearts anticipated the birth of a boy, already named Hugo.
When the shooting began, Katie and her unborn son escaped, but a round hit Caleb in the head; he lost an eye and suffered some brain damage. Currently in a medically induced coma, he will remain in intensive care for at least two weeks—and in hospital for much longer. If he recovers, his hospital expenses could come to as much as $2 million, according to CBS News, which broke their story.
Added to that will be the costs of his wife’s pregnancy—unexpected but welcomed by Caleb and Katie as “a blessing”—and the delivery of their baby.
A low-wage retail employee and a student at a technical school, young and working-class. Of course, they have no health insurance. They are the people that Obamacare was designed to help, the people whose troubles are ignored daily in the national media unless they happen to draw attention in a spectacular disaster—and now they are collateral damage in a system that has denied coverage to millions of people in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, while other nations routinely protect all of their citizens.
The president’s health care reforms will be realized too late to help the Medley family, whose future is likely to be ruined, even if Caleb recovers, by the enormous costs they will now incur. Their distress recalls the awful and revealing moment during the Republican primary debate in Tampa, Fla., last September, when members of the “conservative” tea party audience cried “let him die” about a hypothetical young man who falls catastrophically ill without health insurance.
Above the catcalls of the crowd, Ron Paul tried to sugarcoat this bestiality by saying the best way to care for such individuals is through private charity—which as he knows very well has neither the scale nor the organization to assist the millions of uninsured in America today. Until we establish a fully civilized health care system, however, charity is ironically the only way to help a family like the Medleys—which is why their friends have set up a website to collect donations on their behalf.
They have raised about $15,000 so far. I hope they raise $2 million or more. Let every donation serve as a fitting rebuke to the tea party mentality that would let a young father like Caleb Medley—and any other innocent victim unlucky enough to lack health insurance—simply suffer the consequences alone. And let every donation demonstrate what “family values” should truly mean in a decent country, where no family is left undefended against cruel circumstance.
Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com.
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