__180x200_hcsurvey.gifAnyone can get health care in the United States. Just ask George W. Bush. Last year in Cleveland, he had this to say to the 47 million Americans without health care coverage:

I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.

With emergency rooms serving as the Bush administration’s solution to the nation’s health care crisis, so many people are cramming into them, patient care now is at risk, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard Medical School.

But let’s be fair. Bush isn’t the only Republican leader who doesn’t get—or doesn’t care—that while the United States pays the most for per person health care coverage than any similar nation, we have lower life expectancy than most other rich countries.

Here’s what former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in a recent debate:

The reason health care isn’t working like a market right now is you have 47 million people that are saying, “I’m not going to play. I’m just going to get free care paid for by everybody else.” That doesn’t work.

Bad-mouthing uninsured Americans as "slackers" is not what the union movement, the progressive community, or just about anybody with an ounce of compassion supports.

So, to help candidates running for office this year understand what’s at stake, we’ve just launched an online survey. The 2008 Health Care for America Survey, jointly sponsored by us at the AFL-CIO and our community partner, Working America, runs through February and we will give the results to candidates at the state, congressional and presidential levels to ensure they understand what working families are experiencing. (You can read the stories here and vote on those you think make the most impact.)

Along with specific questions on affordability and quality, experiences with insurance companies, hospitals and doctors and suggested remedies, the survey also gives you the chance to tell your own story.

People are hungry to tell their experiences. The survey has been public only a couple days, and already more than 4,600 people have filled it out, while another 1,400 have taken time to write often heart-felt descriptions of their own experiences or of those close to them. Richard, a Machinists union member in Kansas, writes:

I’m a volunteer delivering low-cost hot meals to senior citizens and the disabled. I have an elderly lady who had to stop the meal program because she had to pay for her medications and couldn’t afford both. She said her prescriptions costs are over $500 per month because she’s in the "donut hole" allowed by Medicare.

That donut hole—the amount not covered by Medicare prescription drug benefit—is compliments of the Republican-led Congress, who strong-armed lawmakers into passing the hugely flawed Medicare prescription drug bill in 2006.

In South Dakota, Kim’s writes that his brother, Kent, hadn’t seen a doctor in years because he couldn’t afford health insurance and certainly couldn’t pay the doctor’s bill out of his own pocket. By the time his bladder cancer was diagnosed in 2003, it was too late. Kent died less than two years later.

The stories are more than about individual pain. They say a lot about the values of those who run this nation. Kelly, in Rhode Island, says she has the following options to obtain health care coverage she and her family can’t afford:

A few months ago we were notified that we make "too much money" to continue to the state shared-cost health insurance. I discussed options with my employer. Finding out that my share of the cost would be $865/month, I re-contacted the carrier dropping us to see if there was anything that we could do. We were told the following options:

I could divorce my husband and he could apply for himself and the children; since he is disabled with very little income he would qualify. Next option was to work less. I was told straight out that if I were to work less—bring home less money—I would qualify for the health insurance and possibly welfare and food stamp. The last option given to me (just cruel!) was to transfer legal guardianship of my children to my parents who would then be able to place the children under their health care plan at a more reasonable cost.

I should give up my husband, give up my children, give up my home ( I won’t be able to afford it very soon) or take the state for all I can?…Someone needs to take a stand and something needs to be done! Please, for all Americans, not just my family, make sure that you vote!

I hope you get a chance to take the survey, vote on stories you think make the most impact and pass around the survey. Lawmakers need to know.