Rock on!



Our Rock for Health Care concert went really well Saturday night. I loved all the bands -- from the quiet ballads and folk songs of Wayne Robbins to the mesmerizing guitar work and vocals of Night's Bright Colors, the way-cool rockabilly sound of The Humbuckers, the pounding beat of 37 Special and the upbeat fun of Jeff Markham and the Last Call.

It was a ball.

We had an enthusiastic, but not to huge, crowd. And a lot of people left with our "How You Can Help" brochure.

I don't know how to thank the bands, who all offered to do it again anytime we want.

And there has to be a special thanks to Jon Darconte, who organized the whole thing because he felt a connection with Mike, even though he never met him. Mike would've liked all of these musicians. He loved music.

So, thanks, guys. I hope we can do this again.

I'll post photos soon.

Carolyn Comeau and I met with Rep. Heath Shuler today to talk about health care. Now, I've met the congressman a number of times and I like him personally, although I don't always agree with him. But the times I've talked to him have been at public gatherings or as a reporter. I get the sense that he's trying to do what's right and he does vote his conscience.

But the last time we talked, I was a reporter asking a congressman about his action on health care. He talked about care for children and care for the elderly, and how he has worked to expand both. Afterward, as we were chatting, I told him nothing he said would have saved my son's life. He was shocked, and he offered to talk more to me.

That's what led to today's meeting. I brought a photo of Mike and told him that was my visual. I told him about Mike's horrible care and how much more expensive it was than it would have been if he'd had access to care. He was appalled at the care Mike got, and at first seemed to deny that this is common for people who don't have insurance.

He talked about the orange bus that big Pharma drags around the country. I told him it's just a dog-and-pony show to convince Americans that the drug companies shouldn't be regulated.

"But when they were here, I saw 60 people get help," he said.

"And the other 60 million who need help? A lot of them get sicker and a lot of them die," I said.

We talked about what I think would be ideal and how I know that won't happen, so I asked him what he will support and vote for. He has signed onto the Obama plan. That's good news to me.

Carolyn talked about having had breast cancer two years ago and knowing her insurance is about to run out. She and Craig have paid for COBRA for 16 months, and it's about to expire. She has two young children, and she worries every day that they'll have to grow up without her, especially if she can't get health coverage. She has run through her savings, and she can't afford a hefty premium. No one should have to worry like that.

We talked about how the emergency room is not access to the health care system. We talked about disease prevention and chronic illness management, and that's where he thinks the system needs the most work. If we can prevent illness or catch it early, it costs a lot less -- both in dollars and in human suffering.

I think Heath Shuler is pretty much with us, but I plan to keep on him to make sure he understands -- really understands -- what's at stake.

A new study from Families USA shows that only one out of five low- and moderate-income workers who have lost their jobs has been able to maintain health coverage.

Most don't have COBRA protections, so they can't even choose to continue their coverage. Those who are eligible for COBRA -- well, it eats up an average of about 84 percent of one's unemployment benefits, and how many people can afford that?

So, when the numbers come out, I believe in May, imagine what the number of people without health coverage is going to be. Care to bet it's above 50 million?

Imagine the number of people who will die because they can't manage chronic illness or get screening or diagnostic tests. Unless something happens, the 30,000 Americans who die every year now will be joined by thousands more.

I went to a cancer conversation tonight, and one of the main things people think we need to reduce the toll of cancer is access. Access to screening tests, access to second opinions, access to the right chemotherapy (many don't have access to chemotherapy at all) access to quality care, access to information on treatments or better yet, on prevention, access to compassion and to dignity.

The other values people think are missing from American cancer care are compassion and respect. People talked about being treated like cattle when they went to chemotherapy, lined up like milk cows for treatment.

But there were people there who had great things to say about Duke and I can always agree with that. They gave us two more years with Mike.

More about the cancer conversations later.