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As I follow the outrageous rumors and disturbing behavior surrounding health care reform, I am reminded of an earlier health crisis in this country. The outbreak of the AIDS virus in the 1980s created similar behavior among those who listened to the fear-mongers exploiting the crisis to advance their political and ideological agendas.
One of the victims of that hysteria was a young boy from Kokomo, Ind. named Ryan White. He acquired the AIDS virus through a blood transfusion he received to treat his hemophilia. When his diagnosis was made public, Ryan and his family were shunned, vilified and threatened. Classmates refused to attend the same school. Customers dropped his newspaper route. The White family fled their home in Kokomo after someone so filled with hate and fear fired a bullet through their living room window.
Young Ryan and his family moved to the town of Cicero, just 50 miles south of Kokomo. On his first day of school the principal, superintendent of schools and a number of students greeted Ryan with outstretched hands. It was a powerful gesture of reason and compassion. The news swept the country and began to calm the hysteria.
What made the difference between these two communities that look the same in every other way? Instead of listening to rumors based on ignorance and fueled by fear, the people of Cicero turned to credible sources for reliable information on the AIDS virus, including the Centers for Disease Control and the New England Journal of Medicine.
They took the responsibility to educate themselves. They learned the facts and they realized that many of the rumors about the disease were false. By the time young Ryan arrived, they were prepared to welcome him, rather than repeat the shameful mistakes of their neighbors to the north in Kokomo.
Twenty years later, we find ourselves in a similar situation with a similar opportunity. Will we allow profiteers, who will spend whatever it takes to protect their “golden parachutes,” manipulate us? Or will we seek out and listen to credible, reliable voices that have a proven record of serving rather than exploiting the people of this country?
Are you listening to Rush Limbaugh, who signed a new contract in 2008 worth $400 million? According to the LA Times, “Limbaugh’s annual salary is more than the combined annual salaries of the four best paid news anchors on network television.”
Do you believe Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who made the false statement at a recent town hall meeting that “You have every right to fear ... a government-run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma?” Grassley accepts huge contributions from the very industries that are spending millions to shut down reasoned debate on health care reform to protect their obscene profits.
If you are searching for credible, reliable voices supporting health care reform, the list is long. I would refer you to Faithful Reform, the national interfaith coalition that includes the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Union for Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, American Muslim Health Professionals and Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
Other groups working for health care reform include the American Academy of Family Physicians,the American Academy of Nursing, the Children’s Defense Fund, YWCA, NAACP, AARP and the AFL-CIO.
I urge you to visit their Web sites. The polls show that over 70 percent of Americans recognize the need for health care reform and support a quality health care system that serves people rather than profits.
Health care reform is the most critical issue we face as a nation. If this democracy is going to survive and thrive each of us must take the responsibility to seek reasonable and reliable sources, learn the facts, and then let our voices be heard. The choice is ours. Are we Kokomo or Cicero?
Beaumont is a legislative advocate for the New Mexico Conference of Churches.