January 14, 2015 -- This movie provides a snapshot of what health care in America was like for some people before many provisions of Obamacare took effect, but some of these same problems, like lack of affordable eye glasses, the cost of dental care and high insurance costs, continue to this day. Some of these problems for some people shown in the film have been solved, other problems remain.
This film was made over the space of a few days in April 2012 at the Bristol NASCAR Speedway in Tennessee. Remote Area Medical, a private organization providing free health care, is setting up a weekend clinic to serve over 1,000 people in two days on a first come, first served basis. Stan Brock, founder of Remote Area Medical, talks about seeing the need for such a service when he was injured years ago in a remote area of the Amazon jungle.
Under Brock's gaze, the operation runs like clockwork. He says the clinics, all 664 of them, have always started right on time. Tents go up in the parking lot. Dentist chairs are hauled in and set up inside the speedway. Portable X-Ray and surgical equipment arrives in trucks, along with a portable optical lab that can quickly turn out eyeglasses within minutes after a prescription arrives from a battery of eye testing facilities. Dentists, doctors, nurses, optometrists, technicians, many of them local, some from all over the nation, volunteer their services.
People who need medical services start arriving days before this equipment is set up, staying in their cars and tents. Many of these people are poor, living in the Appalachian mountains. Some are former coal miners. Some are military veterans. They are assigned numbers, according to their place in line, 504 on first day, more than that on the second day. The numbers are handed out at 3:30 a.m. The clinic opens at 6 a.m. sharp.
The documentary also interviews people in their homes around the area. They talk about the difficulty in trying to afford medical care. Their budgets are so tight, they have to choose between having enough to eat and paying for insurance or medical care. Dental care seems to be a high priority among those attending the clinic. We see teeth being pulled and dentures being made. A man who makes jewelry helps out with making dentures.
A man who makes glasses in a portable optical lab tells a story about a teenager who thanked him for the glasses he made. The teenager said he had never seen a leaf before he got his new glasses. This is the kind of reward many of the volunteers get for their work. Another man is told by a doctor his blood pressure is dangerously high. The man has not seen a doctor for decades. Another woman is told she has symptoms of lung cancer. She had never had a chest x-ray before.
Many of the people who attend the clinic are proud people, who don't really want to be there, but they have serious medical problems and this is the only way they can get treated. The stories are heartbreaking. I'd like to think things are getting better for people like this, but I have a lot of doubts. Our health care system seems to be designed to benefit those who contribute lots of money to political campaigns, not to poor people who need health care.
This movie made me appreciate the health care I've got. Everyone should have at least the kind of care I've got, but many don't get any kind of health care. This is a basic failure of government and the whole American economic system, which produces so many poor people and such expensive medical fees. We've got the best health care facilities in the world, but they do you no good if you can't afford to pay for the care.
There are too many people in this country like those in this movie who are suffering too much. I was lucky to be born into a middle class family at a time in history when higher education was inexpensive and unemployment was low. America is still a great place if you are rich enough to afford to pay for your basic needs, but it is a heartless place if you are poor and it is getting more heartless and more indifferent to the plight of the poor every day.
I live in a state where the government spits on the graves of the poor. Wyoming, and other Republican-controlled states, including Tennessee, refused to expand Medicaid, even though there was no cost to the state to do this. On the other hand, Wyoming did join with other states to spend money on legal action to try to prevent some poor people from getting health insurance. This is the opposite of the message of the Good Samaritan parable.
Brock sums it all up like this, “The patients will always be there. The big question is, will you be able to see all of them. We've cut back in places like Guatemala and Honduras and Dominican Republic, Africa, simply because we're overwhelmed with the need here. Welcome to America.” This film rates a B.
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