Friday October 12, 2012

BRATTLEBORO - When Kathie McClure left her home in Atlanta four years ago to tour the country in support of health care reform, she had no idea that she would end up waiting four days in the rain to listen to the Supreme Court debate the issue.

McClure climbed into her tricked-out purple van in 2008 when presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama were debating the country's challenges and policies, with health care being among them.

McClure, an attorney, was watching her own children as they moved into adulthood and were forced to deal with their chronic health issues.

Her son battles type 1 diabetes while her daughter has epilepsy.

Kathie McClure stands in front of her votehealthcare.org bus during a visit to Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Kathie McClure stands in front of her votehealthcare.org bus during a visit to Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)

She grew frustrated as McCain and Obama lobbed what she calls half truths and lies at each other during the 2008 campaign as insurance companies grew richer and millions of Americans spent another day without health care.

So she talked her husband into buying a van, she covered it in purple wrap, and she set out to talk with advocates, politicians, members of the media, and ordinary Americans about the country's health care system.

She came through Vermont this week, a state which she says is miles ahead of the rest of the country in enacting health care reform.

And on her way back to Atlanta later this month, she will travel through New Jersey, West Virginia and Kentucky, the final three states in the lower 48 that she will have visited during her 30,000 mile trip.

"The health care issue is a huge problem in this country and it is not something that anyone can solve on their own," she said. "I wanted to talk with people about the facts of health care rather than the political spin. We were getting away from the facts and it was choking the country."

Over the past four years McClure has gone out for two or three months at a time.

She spends nights in the van, or in the homes of fellow health care advocates, and has maintained her law practice from the confines of the purple bus.

During her first trip she talked about the campaign.

In 2009, Congress was debating the Affordable Care Act, and the next year brought her to the Supreme Court as the Justices ruled on President Obama's signature piece of legislation.

She was one of the first people in line to wait for a seat in the court when Chief Justice John Roberts read the court's decision.

With each stop McClure would contact a local health care group and organize an event.

She would learn about the local and state health care programs and talk with the people who were being served, or left behind, by the policies.

Now, in 2011, with another presidential campaign in full swing and the country continuing to fight about its health care system, McClure is going to park her van

She can talk about the national and state policies with mind numbing detail, and she holds up states like Vermont that are embracing the national changes and building a transformed health care system that she hopes will create better outcomes.

During the past four years McClure has had a front seat for the most dramatic changes in national health care policy the U.S. has ever seen.

Still, while she supports the Affordable Care Act and is hopeful it will bring real change to the country, McClure said there are still people to convince.

"So much of the discussion has come down to class warfare," she said. "We as a country can do better but it is going to take vision."

McClure is not sure what she is going to do next.

She is going to sell the purple bus, and while she wants to remain active, she is going to take a little time to figure out how to stay involved.

"You've got to start somewhere. It's easy to throw up your hands and just give up," she said. "I didn't change the world but I learned a lot. There are people all over the country who are trying to make this a better place and there's always more work to do."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.