L.A. Lines Up for Free Health Care in "An Outpouring of Need"

Pro-tax reporter Jennifer Steinhauer contrasts downtrodden folks in Los Angeles waiting in a long line for free health care with the "angry" protesters found at town hall meetings.

L.A.-based reporter Jennifer Steinhauer on Thursday, "http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/13/health/13clinic.html " target="_self">Thousands http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/13/health/13clinic.html ">Wait in Line For Health Care That's Free," revealedthat people in South Los Angeles, many of them poor,recently waited in long lines to take advantage of free care administered by Remote Area Medical, a private medical charity from Tennessee. A front-page, over-the-fold photo trumpeted the page 16 story: "Free Health Care Draws Thousands." Asif the concept that people will line up for free stuff is a revelation.


While the story functioned as a sotto voce push for nationalized health care, that headline unwittingly confirmed conservative concerns about long waiting periods for "free" health care.


They came for new teeth mostly, but also for blood pressurechecks,mammograms, immunizations and acupuncturefor pain. Neighboring South Los Angeles is a place where health care is scarce, and so when it was offered nearby, word got around.


For the second day in a row, thousands of people lined up on Wednesday - starting after midnight and snaking into the early hours - for free dental, medical and vision services, courtesy of a nonprofit group that more typically provides mobile health care for the rural poor.


Steinberg set these downtrodden people against the "angry" Americans who are filling town hall meetings in opposition to Obama's proposed health-care overhaul.


The enormous response to the free care was a stark corollary to the hundreds of Americans who have filled town-hall-style meetings throughout the country, angrily expressing their fear of the Obama administration's proposed changes to the nation's health care system. The bleachers of patients also reflected the state's high unemployment, recent reduction in itsMedicaidservices for the poor and high deductibles and co-payments that have come to define many employer-sponsored insurance programs.


Many of those here said they lacked insurance, but many others said they had coverage but not enough to meet all their needs - or that they could afford. Some said they were well aware of the larger national health care debate, and were eager for changes.


"I am on point with the news," said Elizabeth Harraway, 50, who is unemployed and came fordental care. "I think the president's ideas are awesome, and I believe opening up health care is going to work."


....


Last month, the state dropped itsdentaland vision coverage for MediCal enrollees, and has since capped enrollment in the state's health insurance program for children of the working poor. Thousands of people across the state lost their coverage in the middle of complex, multimonth procedures and have found themselves at a loss.


Steinhauer was recently angry herself at California voters who refused to raise their own high tax rates further to help bail their state out of bankruptcy.


One passage in particular on Thursday sounded the socialist siren of "free" health care, with Steinhauer likeningaccess to "free" health care to a kind of Disneyland with dentist drills:


For those willing to endure the long waits, the arena was like a magical medical kingdom, where everything was possible once a person got through the door. Mike Bettis, who runs security for a nightclub in Hollywood, and his fiancée, Lourie Alexander, who cleans homes, said they usually went onCraigslist, exchanging a home cleaning for a dermatology appointment.


By Wednesday, the couple had gotten between them dentures (him); abreast exam,Pap smearand general physical (her); and acupuncture (both).


The caption introducing the online photo slideshow of the event also revealed a slant: "An Outpouring of Need."


As a Facebook commenter noted, wouldn't the word "Demand" be more accurate than "Need"? If you give something away you increase demand for it. Steinhauer's story, full of sympathetic anecdotes of people on hard times, didn't determine who among the recipients truly couldn't afford health care, as opposed to those who got in line because they would rather spend their money on something else.