With tears in her eyes, Marcia Callender told President Bill Clinton that her fight with the health care system ended Dec. 3, when her son died peacefully in his father's arms.
Sitting with Callender at the cramped counter of the Future Diner on Sunday, Clinton put his hand on her shoulder and gently rubbed her neck.
"No family should have their grief compounded and their economic misery reinforced by this kind of problem," he said later, holding a portable microphone in his left hand, Callender's quivering hands in his right.
Callender, who lives in Queens, lost her insurance when her husband lost his job, and the family nearly went broke hanging onto some coverage for their son, who had a terminal disease.
The president heard a number of horror stories Sunday on a visit to the Future Diner, an old campaign haunt in the New York City borough of Queens. The visit was the second time this month that the president has met with people who wrote the White House with their health care tragedies. The meetings - the first was at the White House - are designed to win sympathy for his proposed health care reforms.
Josephine Angevine of Manhasset, N.Y., told Clinton that her health care premiums would total $12,747 this year, a heavy burden on her and her employer. Reading from her letter, she said, "I am afraid of losing my job."
Clinton dropped the microphone in his lap and sighed. "Wow. Takes your breath away, doesn't it?"
Linda Haftel of New York said her premiums had risen rapidly since she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and she is afraid to stop working because no insurance company will cover her because of the condition. Her doctor advised her not to tell her insurance company about the illness.
Clinton, who promises to forbid exclusions for such "pre-existing conditions," pointed to her across the diner and said, "Here she is, at the peak of her capacity to give to society, wondering if she has to lie to her insurance company. This is the only country in the world where you can lose your insurance because you need insurance."
Chef Socrates Fokas, a Greek-born naturalized U.S. citizen, said the 200 people who were able to get into his diner had made reservations Wednesday and had to be cleared by the Secret Service. They had to get there at 8 a.m. Clinton arrived at 11:50 a.m.
The setting for the president's appearance was chosen to make a point. Antonio Maratos, who owns the diner, has 22 full-time workers and 10 part-timers. He does not offer health benefits to employees, but believes Clinton's plan will let him do so. …