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This healthcare painting series is dedicated to a remarkable social activist, and exceptional human being, Athena Smith Ford. At her young age, she mentored so many of us in the art of genuine listening and informed responding. Rest in peace, my dear friend.  Pennsylvania Health Access Network, a consumer advocacy group Athena helped launch, set up a Memorial Fund in her name. The fund will support the work of grassroots advocates in PA who are fighting to expand and protect access to healthcare. Donations can be made here. Thank you.

In 2008 when I took on the subject of accessing healthcare as my focus of “social inquiry,” I did not see the big picture. Healthcare reform had not yet passed. (The Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 and not fully implemented until 2014)

I was learning with every portrait story. I began to see how a person’s health insurance status fit into this puzzle the for-profit industry had crafted. The health insurance industry had backed the American public into a corner. Those with preexisting conditions or costly medical trauma were liabilities to insurance companies. Paying claims decreased profits. Certain lopsided for-profit market forces could be seen at work in the lives of real people who experienced great difficulties accessing healthcare or managing claims. And how were we to deliver access to healthcare to a nation when the entities we relied on to insure us were incentivized not to insure sick people, pay claims or perform any functions that decreased profits? And what was the cost of this perverse system in real life?

I will from time to time comment on those puzzle pieces that represent real lives. I will include in the “Artist’s Notes” observations I made from listening to so many people tell me how they access healthcare. And, occasionally, I will discuss the healthcare law, The Affordable Care Act a.k.a. Obamacare, which I have come to know well since I had to understand it to know how the law would affect the people whose portraits I painted.

These stories and others moved me to exercise my First Amendment right of free speech. I “stood” with portraits and signs in front of the US Supreme Court and Capitol in Washington DC. to confront our representatives with the realities so many in this project face. Photo journal 

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