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A case for healthcare reform?

Mark Mardell | 09:00 UK time, Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Charleston, West Virginia: Johanna Ridenour is a part of the president's fight-back. Democrats want people to tell their own stories about the shortcomings of America's healthcare system. She has answered the call of public radio in West Virginia and wants people to know what she has been through. She's a bright and bubbly student, who looks much younger than her 24 years. Except for her hands, which are twisted like an old woman's by arthritis, a condition she has had since she was 16.

Johanna Ridenour.jpgWhen I meet her, it is a good day. She has no trouble walking and getting up, and is enthusiastic about her new apartment, but she has had days of terrible despair. When she had a job and health insurance, it was nearly worthless to her. It covered $500 worth of prescription drugs. That would buy her enough of her main medicine for two weeks but she needs lots of other pills as well.

She managed to get onto a programme run by a drug company which gave her a free supply. But the corporate road to hell is paved with good intentions: their programme was designed for those without cover, and when they found out she had insurance, the free drugs stopped. For more than a year she was in agony, her mother had to carry her to the bathroom and she could only walk on crutches.

Finally, she got out of her insurance - apparently not easy - and is back on the free scheme. But not having any insurance isn't comfortable. Not long ago she was in a bad car accident. She drove off the road, it turned over and a pole smashed through the windscreen.

"Me and the passenger both had to get cut out of the car. It was terrible. It was horrible and my whole thought process was 'I can't get in this ambulance because I am not going to be able to afford it. I am not going to be able to go to the emergency room. I mean, I am in a wreck where I almost died and I am worried about getting treatment because I am not going to be able to afford it. Like I am not going to set foot in that ambulance because it is, I think around $11,000 a ride."

She tells me that she has thought of trying to live in Britain, or Canada or France. She can't believe that she lives in the richest country in the world, with some of the best medical treatment, but is excluded from it.

Johanna RidenourShe says: "Medicine and health should not be a business and it should not be about money... When did people become so selfish that because someone doesn't make as much money as them, they should die?"

President Obama, speaking on Labor day, accused opponents of not coming up with any answers. He was being partisan. I ask, out of objective interest, what do those who oppose reform think of Johanna's case?

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