Migrating For Health, An Essay by Bryan Costales

Migrating For Health
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During the dust bowl of the 1930's, thousands of families migrated from the mid-west to California in hope of finding jobs. Dust storms, drought, and economic hardship destroyed small farms in Okalahoma. Their property repossessed by the bank, an entire family would pack up their possessions and move west. John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath external link documented one family, their trials and tribulations, as they migrated west from Okalhoma all the way to California.

This is the story of a man who migrated east from California all the way back to Oklahoma.

As the new century approached, a new threat to the welfare of families emerged. The cost of health care became the new hardship. The cost of health care increased far faster than the cost of living, catching many families and individuals in its economic trap.

As a freelance carpenter/roofer, Larry had no health insurance. Once, when a nail gun shot him in the foot, he simply went to the emergency room at SF General Hospital to have it removed. For most of his life, Larry paid no attention to health care. After all, he was divorced, his children were grown and had lives of their own, and he made a good-enough living roofing houses.

Then Larry got liver cancer. external link

The emergency room at SF General diagnosed his cancer, but wouldn't treat it because he had no insurance. Larry was too young for medical aid, and not poor enough for welfare-assisted medical coverage. He briefly toyed with the idea of committing a crime so that he could get medical care as a prisoner, but feared more being jailed than he feared the cancer.

Larry remembered his childhood in Oklahoma, and the the stories he had heard as a boy. In Oklahoma, anyone with only one-sixteenth or less Chickasaw blood could be classified as Native America and would therefore qualify for state assisted health care.

Larry migrated back to Oklahoma so that he could afford the health care he needed to treat his liver cancer. That was a few years ago, and now Larry is no longer alive.

Larry's reverse migration represents the tip of an iceberg.

Another man migrated back to Belgium where universal health care would treat his heart condition. Another woman migrated back to Paris where universal health care would treat her diabetes.

We in the United States are in the middle of a new dust bowl. Our health care system is drying out, turning to dust, blowing away, and taking with it people that can no longer afford to pay.

Imagine Larry, and how he packed up an old VW bus and drove east cross country, back to Oklahoma, in search of health care. Imagine yourself, someday, like Larry. Where will you migrate?


© 2006 Bryan Costales Creative Commons License #Bryan_Costales
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