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Nation just wants a chance to be healthy

As I piled my groceries on the rubber belt I looked ahead to the cashier. Her name tag said “Rose.”

Rose was over 60, perhaps a decade over 60. She worked efficiently with the customer before me, recording items and bagging them all the while chatting with the woman who waited to pay and leave with her groceries.

When it was my turn Rose looked at me directly, smiled, and said “Hello.” I saw an intelligence in those eyes that seems to say to me “well, we find ourselves here, you and I, after so much of life. Isn’t it surprising?”

I jokingly asked Rose to please not let my purchases exceed $100, suggesting that she might just skip the annoying scan on items too expensive to hold to my announced limit.

Rose smiled, then laughed gently, and told me that would not happen, but she understood that groceries were expensive and if I really needed to stay under $100 she would help me select the items I could do without.

I was momentarily embarrassed, both because I was only kidding, and because I realized just how serious my off-hand comment could be for many families.

I changed the topic by asking Rose if this was a good job, full-time, with benefits. She gave me her ironic smile and said “There are no more full time jobs. But, if there were, the insurance here is pretty good for full time.

“It is not so good for part-time, but I would surely pass up a raise to keep my insurance.”

Rose, at 65 plus years was working, not for the money as much as for the insurance. And the insurance was not so great, just better than being 65 without insurance. I did not ask about her eligibility or participation in Medicare, it was a question beyond our short relationship and deep enough to have been prying.

I asked Rose one last question, “Do you like working here? Are they good people.” She flashed me again that wise smile, as though I asked a silly but serious question.

“I like the people I work with and need to work. It keeps me healthy and active. But employers are employers.”

Following that exchange I took my groceries home and unpacked them into the refrigerator and cabinets, thinking about Rose while I shelved the pasta sauce and put the celery into the temperature controlled drawer.

How many Roses are there in America today, working for insurance more than money, accepting part-time work and part-time benefits because they are better than being old without any insurance?

I believe the answer is that there are many Americans, millions literally, just like Rose, struggling to protect herself from even catastrophic health fears while seeking any job that offers even minimal protection.

And then I thought of how our Congress has made Rose and all those in need of just simple health security pawns in a play of epic proportions.

America will never be the nation its people deserve until every American can know that health care is not beyond their reach, that the cost of that care will not bankrupt them or indebt their children for decades.

And now, while millions of Americans are without work, when their budgets are so stretched that groceries are even unaffordable, and lacking work, they lack insurance for themselves and their families, how can they believe in our politicians?

We are a better people than this, a better nation.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.