Nobody ever said Tony Pasquino was a lucky kid. He was born with cystic fibrosis and is now awaiting a liver transplant at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital. But the Fort Dorchester High student is not without friends. Some local figure skaters recently organized an event at the Carolina Ice Palace in North Charleston to help defray the cost of his medical care and surgery. It was a wonderful gesture of friendship and support. Tickets were $10 apiece. It takes a lot of those to pay for a new liver.

Ramey Reeves and Ronnie Campbell were not so fortunate. Reeves died in July of brain cancer; Campbell died in May of esophageal cancer. Campbell was a firefighter; Reeves’ husband is a police officer. To help their families deal with medical expenses, police and firefighters staged a charity softball game at Joe Riley Park in July. Tickets were $6. Those attending were asked to donate extra if they could.

Friends also held a benefit concert for Reeves in June, and last week they put on a benefit golf tournament at RiverTowne Country Club in Mt. Pleasant. “The family’s medical bills are over $1 million, and the insurance is only going so far,” one of the organizers told The Post and Courier. “We’re trying to defer the costs a little bit.”

Robin Lobosco, a Summerville woman suffering from end-stage renal failure, made it to the top of a transplant list to receive a kidney, but her insurance would not cover the cost of the surgery. Friends recently held a raffle and concert to help her raise the $250,000 for the surgery and post surgery care.

Hardly a week goes by that there is not a notice in the P&C of a raffle or auction, a concert or sports event to help someone with catastrophic medical bills. Republicans like to point to these events as examples of friends and neighbors coming together to solve problems without the onerous hand of government hanging over them. These fat cats might smugly write a check — $50, maybe even $100 — to aid some poor cancer or accident victim.

George Bush I used to recognize such efforts with a personal letter hailing them as one of America’s “Thousand Points of Light.” It was a huge PR campaign to promote volunteerism and convince Americans that they really didn’t need government in their lives.

Yeah, Republicans want you to believe that, but according to the oft-quoted statistic, 45 million of us still have no health insurance and tens of millions more do not have enough to cover a medical catastrophe. And when the insurance runs out, the bill collectors will come for your house, your car, anything they can seize. Medical expenses are the most common cause of bankruptcy in this country. I know one couple whose son was born with a heart condition which required a number of surgeries. The expenses were astronomical. The couple went into bankruptcy and lost their home and savings. Because he was in the banking industry, he lost his career and had to start over in a new field.

Europeans, who have enjoyed some kind of national health insurance for decades, are appalled that in this country people can lose their houses, their retirements, and their children’s tuition to pay hospital expenses. They are shocked that citizens must beat a tambourine and auction off their household goods to pay the doctor.

“I should think it’s terribly embarrassing,” a British acquaintance told me a few years ago.

“I’m sure it is,” I responded, “but the shame is America’s.”

The shame also belongs to our national leaders who have been on the take for generations from the American Medical Association, as well as the pharmaceutical, hospital, insurance, and HMO industries. Big Pharma alone spends $100 million a year on political donations.

America is changing rapidly, spurred on by the bail-out of the financial industry. We will never look at “government interference” the same way after this autumn. Part of government’s job is to protect us from corrupt and powerful industries. Yet, it’s very clear that John McCain and the Republicans are incapable of doing that. In an article in the Sept./Oct. issue of Contingencies, the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries, McCain wrote this: “Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.”

That’s right! One of the geniuses who brought us the financial disaster on Wall Street now wants to show America how to manage its health care.

America already has the most expensive health care system in the world. Why can’t it be the best? Ultimately, that’s one of the questions we will be voting on in November.

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