A Sharecropper’s Healthcare Plan

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My grandfather never held political office but he was born for the political arena. He knew the issues before the issues became stories. The summer of ‘75 was my introduction to political irony, thanks to my grandfather who I affectionately called “Daddy.”

My grandfather was asked that year to work on an ambitious gubernatorial campaign that would include Blacks and Whites working together. This campaign would focus on the “the working man’s friend.” The lack of job security was one issue that united Mississippians. “Everyone needs a job,” was impressed upon my grandfather. The promise of bringing manufacturing jobs to a state that had relied heavily on agriculture caught my grandfather’s attention. Daddy was a lover of politics, but reserved a fair amount of skepticism for anyone in political office. One of his favorite sayings was “They all lie and will eat their young to get elected.” But Daddy seemed enthusiastic about this particular campaign. I was nine years old working beside my grandfather, the master of political campaigns.

Daddy learned every candidate inside and out and taught his grandchildren everything about grass root campaigning. Pick a candidate and Daddy could you about his childhood, his personal life, his military service, his political view points and most importantly, the issues. Daddy was not entrenched in party affiliations but was compelled by the importance of families being able to obtain financial independence. That was more important than the letter by the politician’s name. Lack of job readiness and the skyrocketing unemployment could not be ignored. “Stick to the issues,” my grandfather told us over and over as we knocked on doors and shared with everyone their vote was important. “Don’t debate fear and hate.” Fear? Hate? Wait a minute. Why was he mentioning fear and hate when he wanted us to help register voters, give out campaign cards, and hang posters on electric poles along Hwy 61? I dared not pose my questions aloud … no one questioned my grandfather.

We hit the counties that were heavily agricultural. Not cities or small towns but the countryside where soybeans and cotton fields grew as far as the eye can see and little shanty houses were dotted every few acres. That is where I encountered the fear of the unknown that was meshed with hatred of learning the truth. Knocking on doors was an education of a lifetime. One encounter will always remain with me.

I knocked on the door of a sharecropper’s home. I was prepared with my best repertoire with a smile. An elderly woman answered the door looking at me like I was an alien from another world as I extended my hand to shake hers. I stood straight and tall in my campaign t-shirt with ribbons tied on my ponytails. I also had a lunch box, which I used to keep my campaign fliers, voter lists, and property information. I shared about jobs and employment as if I was saying my Easter speech at church.

Her response to my banter was unexpected. She spoke with hostility as she informed me her land would not be taken from her. ‘They’ were not going to remove her from her home. ”This is my land,” she repeated sternly as she pointed to no place in particular and no one was going to take it. I glanced out at the acres of crops planted up to the steps and looked back at her, announcing innocently, “This is not your land; you pick cotton for Mr. Jones. Daddy wants to help you get a job so you can buy your own house.” (Mr. Jones, the owner of the land, lived in the big yellow house at the end of the dirt road that we could see from the front porch.)

At that moment, the Mississippi River dried up that day. A nine year old was telling an elder that she didn’t know what she was talking about and shattering her belief that she owned the land that she toiled for decades. Watching her expression change, I knew I was in trouble with her and my granddaddy.

Our beliefs, accurate or inaccurate, can help us survive challenging circumstances. The woman’s worldview was consistent with what most sharecroppers believed. Although they lived and worked on land that many would never own, many believed that the owner would one day give it to them because they were told this by the land owner, who in turn, benefitted from them believing the lie. They lived and worked on land that they would never own.

I handed her a property list from my lunch box that listed the landowner; it also stated he was a registered voter. She was not listed as a registered voter. She asked, “Where did you get this from, little girl?” I said proudly, “Daddy. He got it from the court house.” Beaming, I told her to go to the courthouse and ask for the records from the clerk. My mother, who taught me about records and deeds, worked in the tax assessor’s office, assisting homeowners file their homestead exemptions.

The woman grew pale and seemed to age as she told me she was going to tell my folks that I had sassed her. She sat down abruptly on a bench and as she continued to mumble that it was her land. I did not know if I had educated her or killed her. I decided if I was going to get a whipping, I better make sure I told everything. I proceeded to tell her how much land Mr. Jones owned throughout the county. My words were backed up by the property list. But she continued to say she owned the land as if she was trying to convince herself. I remember another saying of my grandfather’s: “Never argue with a fool, they will either win the argument or kill you.” Sensing her despair and frustration, I backed off the porch and wished her a good day as I skipped off to catch up with my cousins who were waiting. Hearing the bench move, my skipping was replaced by running. Fear for my safety made me run faster. The more things change, the more things remain the same.

How many understand the issues that have polarized communities around the nation with fear of what ifs and misinformation? The town hall meetings shown on cable news are as confusing as the language being used to describe the events. The media has focused on the drama rather than the real issues.

Have you read the bill, HR 3200? Not the talking points given to industry insiders, pundits or politicians’ stomp speeches, but the actual bill itself. I have been reading the bill for the last month. I have not made it to page 500 of the 1,081-page document. I called my insurance agent to get his input about a particular passage and he was taken aback. I am self-employed. My deductible is $10,000 and all visits are paid out of pocket until that deductible is met. This summer, I paid thousands of dollars in medical payments for my sick child. My monthly premiums are $398.00. I have never filed a medical claim in fifteen years. The doctors’ invoices are paid by me and the insurance company premiums are paid whether I work or not. The more I write, the more I feel like the sharecropper. I am working to pay for nothing.

I contacted my primary care physician to discuss a few issues about my healthcare plans for the future. I was asked to set an appointment. The consultation was going to be considered an office visit. I would need to pay $125. (Note to self: find a new doctor this week.)

As life intersects with today’s political scene, the sharecropper’s despair and frustration describes how many feel about healthcare. We are faced with “choices” that many do not understand, will not be able to buy and will never be able to vote on. We cannot be like the sharecroppers who never received the benefits from being landowners because they did not know the truth about the property they labored on and did not own, we cannot accept what we are told. We must ask questions and educate ourselves about the issues. Talking points and massive hysteria will never stand up to honest scrutiny. Fear only breeds contempt and contempt will leave us with empty promises, political rhetoric and DC’s business as usual culture.

We, the people, will never have the health care provided to our politicians under the golden dome. We elected them to serve us, all of us, but often politicians serve themselves first. Remember what Daddy said, “They eat their young.” HR 3200 has become 1000b pages that obscure those issues our elected are reluctant to speak truthfully about. They are more concerned about maintaining their office than giving us real answers.

I have shared my thoughts about the bill with every sitting U.S. Representative from the state of Tennessee. Have you shared yours? I urge everyone to read the bill for themselves and ask questions of insurance agents and doctors as well as of elected officials. I would like to hear more discussion around insurance reform which drives the health care bus but that’s me. Let’s not accept the sharecropper’s stake in the reform debate. Instead, let’s hold our politicians accountable for the premiums we pay for their insurance plans.


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