By MARC McDONALD
Let's be clear on something: cancer is a horrible thing. And we wish a speedy recovery for Tony Snow, who is battling colon cancer.
As a wealthy, high-profile public figure, Snow can expect the most advanced, cutting-edge, world-class medical care for his condition in the coming years. As the White House Press Secretary, he can expect the best treatment and the best doctors that money can buy.
If you want the nation's best health care, it also helps greatly if you're famous like Snow. After all, no HMO is going to jerk you around on paying your medical bills if you're in the national spotlight and on a first-name basis with the president of the United States.
But as a nation offers its sympathies and prayers to Snow, it's important to note that Snow's plight---as serious as it is---would be much worse if he were an ordinary working-class American.
Dealing with a catastrophic medical condition is hell. But it's even worse when you're not rich and the sky-high medical bills starting pouring into your mailbox.
Doctors always emphasize that, when one is recovering from cancer, it's important to be as optimistic as possible and to maintain a positive mental outlook.
That's a tall order for the millions of ordinary working-class Americans who not only face the challenge of dealing with a medical crisis--but also the nightmare of facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills that will hang over their heads like a dark cloud for the rest of their lives.
Snow faces a serious challenge in the coming years. But I'd suspect that one thing he won't have to worry about is paying his medical bills. After all, Snow earns $165,200 as the White House press secretary. That's a vastly higher salary than the average American earns. And Snow previously made $1.75 million yearly as a Fox News anchor.
Let's face it: when you're rich and famous in America, you get the best medical care. You get to see the best doctors. You get to stay at the best hospitals.
Europeans believe that health care is a basic human right. But in America, the health care you get is directly tied into how much money you have.
These days, the number of Americans with no health-care insurance is soaring, with no end in sight. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last year that the number of uninsured Americans rose by 1.3 million to a record 46.6 million, including over 400,000 children.
While the crisis of the uninsured gets the most media attention, it's important to remember that tens of millions of Americans have health insurance and still face huge obstacles in getting the medical treatment they need.
I have a friend whose wife developed breast cancer a decade ago. Both husband and wife worked full-time and paid thousands of dollars yearly for HMO medical coverage.
The problem is that the HMO didn't pay all their staggering medical bills. And my friend and his wife were socked with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills that plunged them deeply into a debt hole that they have yet to climb out of a decade later.
I'd suspect that hundreds of thousands of Americans go through a similar hell every year. And bear in mind: we're not talking about the uninsured---we're talking about Americans who have health-care coverage.
So while a nation offers its "get well soon" wishes to Tony Snow, let's also spare a thought for the millions of working-class Americans who struggle every year to get the medical treatment they need from heartless HMOs that are more concerned about maximizing profits than offering health care.
America's broken health-care system is in an ongoing crisis that the Republicans (including Snow himself) have long turned an indifferent, cold shoulder to, in their zeal for putting profits over people.