Healthy conversation

Forest Harlan and Norma Wilcox

Photo By Kenna cook

The Butte County Health Care Coalition leaders are sick and tired of being sick and tired. President Forest Harlan and his wife, Treasurer Norma Wilcox, lead healthy, active lives, but they are also part of the 62 percent of Americans who have filed for bankruptcy because of medical expenses. In 2001, Wilcox, a registered nurse, was in a car accident that left her with a torn rotator cuff and chronic headaches. Two years later, Harlan was diagnosed with throat cancer, financially wiping out the couple and forcing them to get a second mortgage to pay off medical bills—even though they had medical insurance through Blue Shield. Motivated by their own struggle, Harlan began attending BCHCC meetings in June 2006 and was elected to the board of directors in 2008. He is currently working on his master’s degree in public health education from Chico State. As President Obama struggles to pass national health-care reform, California’s answer to the currently broken system is the Universal Healthcare Act, SB 810, which will cover all Californians regardless of their economic status and past medical history. The process will take time, but both Harlan and Wilcox are prepared for the long road ahead. For more information, log onto

What does a BCHCC membership offer?

Wilcox: The organization is for individuals and for groups who support a single-payer health-care system. For $24 [the annual fee], people can be involved in any way that they want to.

Harlan: There are no paid officers. One hundred percent of the money goes into activities that support single-payer health care. We sponsored a conference on May 9 at Chico State that was very well received, and small parts of our budget go toward travel to allow members to attend workshops in Sacramento and Los Angeles.

What is your stance on the suggested health-care reform?

Harlan: As a group, we haven’t taken a formal position, but I will say that in conversations amongst our leaders that the single most important item that we are trying to work for in this federal bill is the allowance of states to devise their own health-care plans.

Wilcox: When Obama was running for the presidency, he had published a health-care plan, and one part of that was that he did not support individual mandates which would require every American to purchase a private, for-profit insurance policy, unless they qualified for some government help program. Now, in all these committees, there is a mandate.

What is the biggest problem with the current health-care system?

Wilcox: Every country in the world that provides health-care for its citizens that is truly universal does not have a profit motive. They’ve realized that they can’t exist if there’s a profit motive. It’s not affordable.

Harlan: There is a very important difference between the market for health insurance and the market for commodities. It’s impossible to treat health-care like a commodity and achieve universal health care at the same time. The very existence of private health-care companies precludes arriving at a point of universal health care.