There is a scene near the end of  Michael Moore’s healthcare movie SICKO when  a woman, whose lungs were severely damaged working at ground zero after 9/11, goes into a neighborhood pharmacy in Havana, Cuba to see if they have the same  medicine in Cuba that she has been taking in the United States.

She shows the clerk the inhaler that she has brought with her from the U.S. and asks if they have it. The clerk says "yes" and goes and gets it. It is exactly the same as the one she has brought from home, and she asks "how much does it cost" ? The clerk tells her the amount in Cuban pesos, and she asks those with her "how much it is in dollars?. The answer comes back "five cents," whereupon the woman leaves the pharmacy crying.

Moore goes after her, finds her crying, and asks "what’s wrong?"  She tells him that in the U.S. she pays $120.00 for the same thing they are selling in Cuba for five cents.

A similar but reverse thing happened a while back in Jesup, Georgia where Ramon Labanino’s 74-year-old father and other family members were visiting him at the federal prison there (he was recently moved to Ashland, Kentucky). His father had a medical problem and the doctor gave him a prescription for an antibiotic to cure a slight urinary tract infection.

The prescription called for one pill a day for five days. Ramon’s oldest daughter, Aili, went to have the prescription filled at the pharmacy in the local Kroger. The clerk who brought the filled prescription to the counter asked, "There’s no insurance on this?" When the answer came back "No", the clerk replies "$98 dollars."

One pill a day for five days.  As she paid the bill, Aili explained to me that before she left Cuba she was given some extra funds for an "emergency like this."

Before he was transferred to the federal prison in Safford, Arizona, Rosa Gonzalez , wife of Fernando Gonzalez, another of the Cuban Five, visited him at the prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. During the visit she had a dental emergency which required a local dentist in Terre Haute to do a root canal on the problem tooth. It took more than $700 in emergency funds to correct the problem. At cash registers and check out lines in small towns in southern Georgia, central Indiana, and all over the U.S., it is not uncommon to see hand-made signs asking for money for children or adults with serious life threatening medical problems.

A family has no insurance, or the means to pay steep medical bills, and has to resort to this uniquely American form of begging which is unknown and unheard of in Cuba.

Cubans, who have free healthcare, have a hard time understanding that some Americans have to go hat-in-hand to friends, neighbors and strangers in order to be able to pay for needed medical care.

It’s not difficult to see where The Five, whom Cubans consider heroes, find their resolve.

March 1, 2013