The Land Of The Care-Free A federal judge in Richmond refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the state of Virginia that challenges the new health-care law. Not too far away, in the rural southwestern part of the state, crowds of the uninsured lined up for an annual free health clinic.

The Land Of The Care-Free

The Land Of The Care-Free

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This week, a federal judge in Richmond refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the state of Virginia that challenges the new health-care law -- handing the law's foes an early legal victory.

Virginia's attorney general is hardly alone in opposing the new measure; 20 states are also contesting it. Virginia is one of the leaders in the fight to oppose the mandate that everyone get health insurance.

Yet I couldn't help thinking about the photos I saw last week of the long lines of people waiting for what has become an annual event in southwestern Virginia -- a mobile health clinic that provides care at the Wise County fairgrounds. Officials say the Remote Area Medical Clinic treated nearly 2,400 people over three days. Many had to be turned away.

I found this striking because once upon a time, I knew those types of people. They came to our back door, to my stepfather's clinic and 14-bed hospital in rural southeastern Wisconsin. When the patients couldn't pay cash, he accepted barter trade: buckets of blueberries, baskets of corn, pecks of tomatoes. These were the working people you saw around town: the farmers, cooks, home repair tradesmen -- and doctors wouldn't think not to provide for them if they could.

When I was a girl, the bond between the sick and the healthy was substantial: You got sick or hurt, and of course, your brethren found some way to take care of you.

Most doctors would never barter for their services today. Insurance laws have changed, medicine has changed -- and how we provide health care has become a bitter partisan issue.

But the need hasn't changed. The Health Wagon, a group that organized the remote medical clinic in Virginia, says many of the people who come have chronic health problems. Many don't have any access to specialists.

A journalist friend who reported on the Virginia event says he spotted a man with a tumor as large as a grapefruit on his back. The man hoped he might find a doctor who could remove it. A man who appeared to be in his late 30s had the remainder of his teeth pulled. He told my friend that he would be "gumming it like my pawpaw" and not getting dentures.

And the desperate need for health care isn't just in rural areas. A free clinic like the one in Virginia would probably draw crowds anywhere in the U.S.

That's what happened this week in Washington, D.C. Nearly 2,000 people showed up for a similar event hosted by the National Association of Free Clinics at the city's downtown convention center.

The pictures from Wise County, Va., and from Washington, remind us that we are all mortal clay, and sooner or later we'll need help. And very few of us will be able to pay that debt with buckets of blueberries.