NY rally highlights health care’s human face

NEW YORK-Eric de la Cruz wasn’t poor. In many ways, his future was bright: He had a girlfriend, Noelle, whom he planned to marry. He was in college and worked part time at a small graphic design company-a company not large enough to afford to offer health insurance to its workers.

The Obama administration, along with countless others, including health care activists and the labor movement, have done a great deal to highlight the plight of middle class Americans who are working but still have no health insurance-people like Eric.

Just over five years ago, after visiting several doctors, Eric was told that he had a serious heart ailment that was curable-by a transplant.

“He wanted to do things that all 22-year-olds were doing,” his sister, Veronica de la Cruz, a well-known news journalist who worked as a CNN anchor for five years, told a rally for health care reform organized by MoveOn and others. “He wanted to hang out with his friends. Instead, my brother was stuck worrying about how he was going to get help, because his life depended on it.”

Eric began calling insurance company after insurance company-and was denied by each one, because of his “pre-existing condition.” But Eric was lucky enough to have a sister who loved him and who was a public presence. She began talking about Eric’s condition-online, on Twitter, everywhere-and others took note. Many people, who became “Eric’s Twitter Army,” sent money. Celebrities, his sister said, took notice. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails sold high-price backstage passes to concerts to raise money for Eric.

They raised $1 million, enough to cover the cost of a heart transplant.

Even with a million dollars in hand, UCLA still refused Eric. They said he needed supplemental insurance. “That’s the joke,” Veronica de la Cruz said. “You can’t get supplemental medical insurance if you have a pre-existing medical condition.”

After calling numerous transplant centers, de la Cruz was able to find a single facility to take her brother on, but to no avail.

Through tears, de la Cruz told the group, “They said, ‘You got here two years too late. We’re basically working against the clock. Eric is basically already in the grave, and we’re going to have to dig him out.'”

It was too late. After five years, and after raising more than $1 million, and rallying hundreds of people or more, Eric succumbed to his illness. “Despite all those miracles that were happening, it wasn’t enough to outweigh the damage that time waiting for insurance had done,” his sister told the rally.

De la Cruz founded an organization,  Eric’s Law, aimed at health reform. She wants to stop what happened to Eric from happening to others. That’s why, she said, she was at the rally, and that’s why she supports a health reform with a strong public option.

In an ironic twist, Eric died on July 4, 2009, the same day that Americans celebrate love of country.

“We also know that in this country that we love,” Tim Foley, of NYC for Change, told the rally, “122 deaths happen each day that simply wouldn’t happen in any other industrialized nation in the world. 122 Americans die each day, and that is unacceptable.”

New York’s senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, sent representatives to the rally, which took place in neon glow Times Square. Both vowed to continue the fight for health care reform with a not-for-profit option, and implored others to keep fighting. Gillibrand vowed to ensure that the anti-woman Stupak language in the House bill would be defeated.

The rally was part of a larger mobilization to demand that the Senate enact health care reform with a strong. In the four outer boroughs rallies took place, as well in as in hundreds of cities and towns across the United States.

The rally in Times Square was somber, but optimistic as well.

“I went into medicine because I believe that healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” said Manisha A. Sharma, MD, of the National Physicians Alliance. “We have never been closer to health insurance reform as a basic civil human right. We are at the home stretch. We have already made change. Call your member of Congress, call your Senator. After 100 years, we can make history.”