BY DAVID PERRYMAN
The homespun humor and wisdom of Oklahoma native Will Rogers has fascinated America for nearly a century. His unique insight, accurate analysis and fearless delivery “plain-talked” himself into the hearts of millions.
When the California Legislature formed the California Bar Association to regulate the conduct of lawyers in the Golden State, Rogers said, “Personally I don’t think you can make a lawyer honest by an act of the Legislature. You’ve got to work on his conscience. And his lack of conscience is what makes him a lawyer.”
In his no nonsense way, Will was quoted as saying, “What this country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds.” Will Rogers, in the oft quoted words of Finley Peter Dunne, regularly and routinely, “comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.”
In speeches and syndicated articles, our state’s favorite son spoke on a multitude of subjects, hashed no words and always smiled as he conveyed a truth that was sometimes hard to swallow. Although William Adair Penn Roger’s 134th Birthday will take place in a just a few days, his remarks are timeless, having uncanny application to current events.
This great American icon spoke of congressional gridlock and used terms like the “little guy,” the “big guy,” and “the Normal Majority.” He poked fun at Democrats and Republicans and everyone in between. His audience appreciated the clarity by which he spoke.
Two of his particularly relevant quotes from the 1930s were, “Doctors should make enough out of those who are able to pay to be able to work for the poor for free. One thing that a poor person should never be expected to pay for is medical attention and not from an organized charity but from our best doctors. Your doctor bill should be paid like your income tax, according to what you have” and “There is nothing that keeps poor people poor as much as paying doctor bills.”
Oh, what a prophet … In 2009, Bloomberg Business reported that a Harvard University study found that 62% of all personal bankruptcies were medical related and 50% of all residential foreclosures are the direct result of health care costs incurred by the family that lives there.
In the U.S., someone files for bankruptcy every 30 seconds in the aftermath of a serious health problem. And poor people are not the only ones affected. This is an issue that touches each one of us.
Health care providers who are only able to collect a fraction of their billings because of a patient’s bankruptcy or simple inability to pay, must either increase billing rates or decrease overhead. Decreasing overhead means employee layoffs or a lower quality of medical care. Increasing billing rates will result in additional bankruptcies.
This pervasive, vicious circle illustrates clearly why outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says that “unless we resolve the health care issue, the economic issues we are grappling with today will be unresolved and will only grow in complexity and in depth.”
Most hospitals in Oklahoma, particularly rural hospitals, are writing off millions of dollars in bad debt. It isn’t like patients do not want to pay, but the age old practice of using produce and eggs to satisfy a medical bill no longer pays the electric bill, allows the hospital to meet payroll or make payments on advanced medical equipment needed in today’s medical science.
In 2009, American families paid an average of $1,100 more in health insurance premiums every year to help cover the cost of medical care for the 47 million Americans who had no insurance.
If the Affordable Care Act is not the answer to the health care crisis, then it is imperative that an alternative solution be proposed. It does not matter to Americans whether the leadership for that solution is Democratic or Republican, but shutting down the federal government without putting a solution to the health care crisis on the table is irresponsible.
What would Will Rogers say about that? He already did. On July 28, 1935, only 18 days before he and Wiley Post perished in the plane crash in Alaska, Will said, “There is nothing as easy as denouncing … It don’t take much to say that something is wrong, but it does take some eyesight to see what will put it right.”
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives