Big difference in Little Rock

BIG DIFFERENCE IN LITTLE ROCK…. In October, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann helped raise $1.2 million for the National Association of Free Clinics, which in turn led to events in Little Rock, Kansas City, and New Orleans where the uninsured could get medical attention.

The Arkansas clinic was yesterday. Seeing what transpired should effectively end the debate on the need for health care reform.

More than 1,000 uninsured Arkansans with a broad range of medical ailments, including at least seven who required immediate emergency care, sought care Saturday at a free clinic at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.

Patients with heart failure and chest pain were among those rushed to emergency rooms.

“One with heart failure had just been in the hospital three weeks ago,” said Dr. Kimberly Garner, the clinic’s medical director and medical director of geriatric evaluation and management at Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.

“It was recommended he see a cardiologist, but he doesn’t have health insurance so he wasn’t able to go in for a follow-up.”

Lee Fang posted some video from the event, including one attendee who explained it’s been years since his last doctor’s visit, despite having diabetes, because he can’t find a job that offers insurance.

Of course, all of those who sought care at the free clinic had to deal with rationing and long wait times — which, incidentally, is what conservative opponents of reform are constantly warning against.

These clinics don’t happen nearly often enough, but when they do, we see similar patterns. In August, there was a free clinic near Los Angeles, where thousands sought services, and hundreds of people were turned away. Families in need of assistance slept outside an arena, hoping for the chance to see a physician. In September, there was a clinic in Houston, where more than 2,000 people showed up seeking medical treatment.

In July, Bill Moyers sat down with Wendell Potter, a former executive at a major health insurance company, who’s become a whistleblower, explaining the way the industry “put profits before patients” and is doing everything possible to block health care reform now.

Asked what prompted his change of heart, Potter said he visited a health care expedition in Wise, Virginia, in July 2007. “I just assumed that it would be, you know, like booths set up and people just getting their blood pressure checked and things like that,” he said. “But what I saw were doctors who were set up to provide care in animal stalls. Or they’d erected tents, to care for people…. I’ve got some pictures of people being treated on gurneys, on rain-soaked pavement. And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care.”

Potter added that families were there from “all over the region” because people had heard, “from word of mouth,” about the possibility of being able to see a doctor without insurance. He asked himself, “What country am I in? It just didn’t seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States.”

And yet, this is the norm. Despite this, we still have conservative politicians threatening to kill reform if some people are given a choice between competing public and private plans. Worse, in some far-right circles, there’s still a belief that health care reform isn’t necessary. Last month, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) even boasted, “There are no Americans who don’t have healthcare. Everybody in this country has access to healthcare.”

If only that were true.