Why would an otherwise sane Atlanta soccer mom brave hail, snow and tornadoes to drive across the nation inspiring others to petition lawmakers? What possessed throngs of Montanans to surround their U.S. senators' offices in protest? Why would thousands of Seattlites march through the streets, with one lady brandishing an "Inadequate Coverage" sign, clad in a hospital gown, buns exposed?
The answer is that people are desperate for real solutions to the soaring cost of health care. They grow frustrated as members of Congress emerge from their marble corridors for obligatory listening tours, only to offer timid, half-hearted measures. To borrow a word coined by our previous president, politicians misunderestimate the will of the American people.
This troubling disconnect is the biggest lesson of my 20,000-mile journey across 30 states to the District of Columbia. I am that otherwise sane Atlanta mother. Never before politically active, I got off the sidelines when insurers refused to sell reasonably priced policies to my adult children because of their "pre-existing conditions."
My son Chris, 27, suffers from Type 1 diabetes, and my daughter Caitlin, 25, has epilepsy. So my husband fixed up a little school bus we bought on eBay and painted it purple to represent a mixture of the red and blue factions that too often divide our country. Then I launched a real listening tour.
Folks in Austin, Los Angeles and Des Moines greeted me like a hero. Omaha commuters jumped out of their cars to join our roadside rally. Some started calling me the "Purple Bus Lady" as they shared their despair over insurers charging premiums that exceed mortgage payments and using fine print to escape paying medical bills.
My reception inside the Washington beltway set quite a different tone. For starters, a law-abiding citizen cannot park her little bus anywhere near the great halls of democracy. Once in the Capitol, the frustration intensifies. Upon conveying our health care ordeals to the staff of Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, our delegation received caring looks and bags of peanuts, but no solutions.
Senate Democrats seem just as tone deaf as they reel from sticker shock at the price of their private insurance-based proposals. We don't need the Congressional Budget Office to tell us that a system geared to maximizing insurance and pharmaceutical profits is unaffordable.
What politicians fail to grasp is that voters are wise to these insatiable cookie monsters who, according to the Washington Post, are paying lobbyists $1.4 million each day to defeat meaningful reform. Like the throngs surrounding the offices of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), people everywhere are outraged that their representatives accept millions of dollars from insurance and pharmaceutical interests but refuse to consider an affordable public health insurance option.
The majority of us want a robust public plan option because we know it's the only way to keep private insurers honest and make them compete for our business. Every single person I met along my journey is willing to pay his or her fair share.
But when our elected representatives show no fortitude to rein in these voracious corporate interests, our anger grows. My journey outside the beltway shows that lawmakers should no longer assume people will quietly take their lumps and resign themselves to spaghetti suppers to pay off back-breaking medical debts. The ground is shifting.
This week as Congress reconvenes to hammer out the details of health reform, I invite Republicans and Democrats alike to ride in my purple bus. Come talk to people whose health insurance premiums exceed their mortgage payments. Then try telling us our nation can't afford to fix health care.
Kathie McClure is an Atlanta attorney and the founder of VoteHealthcare.org.