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Mon Jan 23, 2012, 04:08 PM

Park City Vantage Point Puts Tragedy of American Health Care in Vivid Relief {skier sarah burke}


Grieving family of fallen Canadian skier Sarah Burke faces massive hospital bill it wouldn't face at home

The journey I embarked on when I made the decision to leave a successful career in the health insurance business was a spiritual one. I can trace the decision to a true epiphany, to the very moment I saw hundreds of people standing, soaking wet, in long, slow-moving lines, waiting to get medical care that was being provided in animal stalls at a fairground in Wise County, Virginia.

It hit me immediately that had my circumstances been a little different when I was growing up near there, I could have been one of those people. It also hit me that the work I was doing as a spokesman for the insurance industry was making it necessary, at least in part, for those people to resort to such humiliation to get basic medical care. One of my responsibilities was to persuade Americans of the lie that most of the uninsured are that way by choice, that they have shirked their responsibility to themselves and their families. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Our so-called health care “system” had simply left them behind.

I cannot tell you why I felt compelled to drive from my parents home in Kingsport, Tennessee to Wise County — a distance of about 50 miles — on that late July day in 2007. What I can tell you is that stretch of U.S. Highway 23 turned out to be my Road to Damascus. For the past few years, I have been dedicated to spreading the truth about how health insurance companies really operate in this country.

Last year my new career attracted the notice of Matthew Heineman, a documentary filmmaker in New York. He and his team interviewed me for a movie, Escape Fire, that premiered Friday at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival here in Park City. I have not seen anything that better captures just how dysfunctional our system really is and how urgent it is for us to transform it.

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