We just returned from bicycling 125 miles over the course of a weekend to raise money for the Central Florida chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Seth has been doing this ride or one for the North Florida Chapter since 2001 and I have joined him for all or part of the weekend of riding on four occasions. This is one of three charities that we contribute to in some significant fashion and it is the only one for which we do fundraising.
After a challenging several months of work in the behavioral health software community struggling to keep up with the volumes of information being produced about how the economic stimulus act (ARRA) will affect our industry, I was very much looking forward to a weekend fully engrossed in cycling…no thoughts of mental health billing or behavioral health electronic medical records. We have been training for the last couple of months so we could comfortably do the ride in what has already become blistering heat here in Central Florida. The thought of a weekend spent outdoors with other cyclists just enjoying cycling for a worthwhile cause was very pleasant to look forward to.
The weekend met most of my expectations, but there were also some surprises. We started and ended at Bok Tower Gardens, a beautiful botanic garden and National historical landmark in Lake Wales. We had good, if hot weather and the road conditions were excellent. We rode 78 miles on Saturday and 47 miles on Sunday. We were among 1200-1300 cyclists and 300 volunteers who participated in the event. There were more riders this year than last, but fundraising was down by a good deal. We won’t know how much for another month, but the poor economy has certainly affected the success of most riders at raising money. Even so, some of us did raise a bit more than we did last year. Corporate sponsorships were down and in-kind contributions were limited. The result was there were fewer and less well-stocked rest stops and cold, packaged breakfast in place of the usual hot breakfast we have come to expect. There was all the usual talk of bikes and rides and travel to ride some more. The Saturday evening dinner and celebration was as inspirational and moving as always. MS is a disease that has, in some fashion, affected all of us who participate, and the commitment of the people in the room was magnificent.
Riding a bicycle, even in the company of many other riders, gives lots of opportunity for thought and reflection. This ride was no exception. And the healthcare environment in which we find ourselves brought my thoughts to the friends who struggle daily to live with MS…and why it is that programs to support them in their struggle and research to find a cure depend so much upon charity. What is it about us as a nation that allows us to believe that health care…even for chronic debilitating diseases that occur through no fault of our own…is a privilege rather than a right? Why do we take it for granted that those afflicted with many diseases, who need assistance their health insurance does not provide, should get that help from not-for-profit organizations dependent upon fundraising rather than from their health insurance…or not get it at all? Why is it acceptable to us that many of the bankruptcy proceedings forced upon middle class Americans occur because of a long illness and medical expenses that could not be borne? Why are we so unwilling to join the ranks of most of the industrialized world paying more in taxes to assure that we all have the healthcare we need when we need it, without fear of losing our life savings and our homes?
I hope that my careful eating and regular cycling help keep me healthy so I will experience a long life with a rapid decline at the end. The thought of relying upon our current healthcare system and being able to pay for my own care in the face of an extended illness frightens me more than I can say. I hope we soon come to a place where it is not necessary for any American to confront that fear.