Thursday, October 22, 2015

October 22, 2015 — What Makes a Cuban Afraid

Today I read an article from the New York Times profiling Elaine Diaz, a Cuban who has set herself up as an independent journalist in her country. Her news organization is called, in English, Community Journalism.

She’s a pretty gutsy young woman. While not exactly a dissident — she steadfastly refuses to adopt that title, so as not to get on the wrong side of the Cuban government — she does try to go her own way with the news stories she publishes. So far, the government is letting her proceed without too much harassment.

What really struck me about the article was a quotation near the end, in which Elaine explains what it is she most fears. It’s not what you think.

It’s medical care in the United States.


Elaine studied journalism at Harvard before returning to Cuba. The interviewer asked her, “How did your year in Boston change your perceptions of America and Americans? What were the most pleasant and unwelcome surprises?”

Her response:

“I realized American journalists suffer from many of the same kind of issues I faced in Cuba. I commiserated with them and realized the scope of the financial crisis our industry is struggling to overcome. The hardest thing was getting sick, and realizing that the deductible of my insurance policy was incredibly high. Once, I sent a photo of a rash on my hands to a Cuban doctor in Sierra Leone so he could diagnose it. I have never felt so afraid of getting sick as I did during those 10 months in the United States.”

Think about the implications of that statement. Cuba is a third world nation. Despite its many economic problems, its government has, for many years, put a great deal of money into healthcare. Cubans may lack many things, but good medical care is not one of them. So excellent is the Cuban healthcare system that Cuba has sent some of its best doctors all over the world, visiting other third world nations to help provide medical care.

So, when this Cuban student comes to the United States to study at Harvard for a year, her greatest fear is getting sick with an expensive illness.

Presumably, Harvard offered her some kind of student medical insurance as part of her financial package. Yet, even as an insured person she still felt the need to send a photo of her hands halfway across the world, so a Cuban doctor in Africa could diagnose the rash that had appeared on them.

If Cuba can build a world-class medical system on a shoestring budget, with care provided entirely by the government, then why can’t we figure out a way to make the move to single-payer healthcare?