Health Care Signs of the Times (Or, Get Your Big Plastic Jug NOW!)

In August I did some writing about health insurance, and in particular about the Pittsburgh shooting victim whose friends and family held a car wash to help raise funds to pay for her medical expenses. picked up on that post, and Robin Stelly commented on the post as follows:

Every person at birth should be issued a big plastic jug. When people become ill, they should tape their most endearing photos and a brief description of their illnesses to their plastic jugs. Then all they have to do is display the official containers at a local pizza shop - or something similar - and problem solved. More seriously ill people can apply to receive more big plastic jugs. I'm pretty sure that Sen. Coburn (R-OK) is planning to introduce this plan in response to "Obamacare" when the Senate returns from the district work period. I for one look forward to codifying our status as a nation of desperate beggers.

That comment really stuck with me. I'm sure we've all seen these types of containers at one place or another, and tossed some money into them here and there. After reading Robin's comment, I thought maybe I'd start photographing them whenever I run across them. Of course I'd need to have my camera with me - though now that I have a new iPhone (purchased as an MMD - Mom Management Device), it's much easier.

So herewith, my first offering of Big Plastic Jug Photos. If you are so inclined, take a photo of one in your neighborhood, and send it to me by email. Be sure to include a bit of info - general geographic location, what type of establishment it was found in.

My first field sighting was in my hometown, at the post office community bulletin board:

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The next one came on another trip home. Just off the Bedford exit of the Pennsylvania turnpike is a combination gas station/conveniencestore/MdDonald's. It was on the counter of the MdDonald's that I found this big plastic jar.

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The last one in the current batch of offerings was found in a small convenience store about halfway between my hometown and Point Marion, PA, that used to be known as the "9 to 9 store" because of its hours. I did not capture (entirely) in this photo the picture of the sweet little toddler with her lacy suncap and strawberry pink dress because I didn't have the heart to plaster her photo all over my blog. Nor did I have the heart to ask the person behind the counter exactly why we were being asked to purchase ribbons on poor Callie's behalf. I guessed cancer, or some similar devastating childhood misfortune, along with the usual story of parents working at low-wage jobs that did not provide insurance.

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So there you have it. My first installment. I plan to keep taking pictures if I can, and I encourage you to as well. Even better, contact your senator and/or congressperson, and ask him or her if they think this is how those struggling on the margins of our society ought to be expected to get by when medical disaster strikes. Do we really want to be a Blanche DuBois nation, depending upon the kindness of strangers to pick up the tab for society's least fortunate?

I guess we do. The Big Plastic Jugs don't lie.

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Thanks so much John. And oh god, I read your footnote, and I was so not thinking of the double entendre possibilities inherent in the phrase "big plastic jugs"...well, what's done is done! On with the meme!

"... a nation of desperate beggars."

That is a turn of phrase that immediately aroused my interest in getting single payer healthcare. Very effective emotional argument, at least for me. Compile that with your photo work and it can be a convincing line of reasoning for those who are unsure.

Zusk - You are da bomb. I also hope this becomes a movement. I have my camera phone ready.


By stickypaws (not verified) on 16 Oct 2009 #permalink, anyone?

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 16 Oct 2009 #permalink

@ D.C #8,

I'm sure could be set up pretty quickly.


Not trying to be d00dly about this, but if you don't want to be innundated, and if you want a central place to store/catalog/post these photos, I could setup a blogspot account pretty quick, and associate an email with it. People could then email photos/descriptions to me, and I'll post them. Of course, all credit for the idea will go to you, with a repost of your post here, and a link back to your blog.

I think it is a great social commentary, although I admit I was horribly depressed after seeing some of those containers...

RichB, I do like the idea of setting up the you think it is something we could work on together? Email me. I'll be out this evening and will check back in later tonight.


I'd be honored to work together ... and I'd of course give you all passwords and "keys to the kingdom" ...

I'll get it set up tonight (my work blocks access to gmail and blogspot), and I'll email you the details...

I think this is a powerful idea- my main reservation is that people may not want their names made public. Having one's full name posted on might be different from publicly requesting donations in a small town where you know everyone. Especially when assholes like Michelle Malkin have been known to harass people who've identified themselves as needing help with medical bills (e.g. Graeme Frost and SCHIP last year). Probably you've already thought of this, Zuska, but just wanted to bring it up.

As I mentioned above (#3), I put this up on my blog and on Facebook and at least one other person picked it up and ran from there. Let me know when you get something up and running and I'll do what I can to promote it and direct others to it.


Jessica, when I contribute, I plan to grey out the names. I agree that offering some anonymity, especially as contributors aren't necessarily asking permission first, is the considerate thing to do. It's also safer in terms of liability issues... just in case.

I feel like a real idiot for not thinking about possible consequences for exposing the names to a larger audience of potentially unfriendly souls...I've altered the photos to remove last names. Please let me know if you think I should remove first names as well. My feeling was that having first names on there was helpful (in making it more "real" for the reader/viewer) without being identifying but I would appreciate feedback from you, my readers, as to whether you think the first names should go, too.

Rich - got your email and will be communicating with you shortly about going forth with the new blog. Thanks!

Have you heard that the health insurers and their lackeys in Congress want to tax the health care money collected this way? They say this might be charity, but poor little Callie isn't a registered non-profit. Why should she get away with tax free contributions with the soaring deficit?

No, I haven't heard that either, but it's a great vicious rumor to spread.

I think leaving the first names is okay. You're right; it does personalize the pleas a lot more.

As soon as you announce the blog name, I'll follow it.


You might be interested in the Accident Compensation Corporation system in New Zealand. Everybody gets their medical expenses paid for when they have any kind of accident. Regardless of who's fault it was. It's not perfect, but from a societal POV it's the most efficient system ever devised. In combination with a civilised healthcare system it stops everybody from suing everybody else in order to pay massive medical bills.

By antipodean (not verified) on 18 Oct 2009 #permalink

I hope I'm not stealing Zuska's thunder here, but I thought I'd let you know that the Beggar Nation blog is open at:

Zuska has cross-posted the original post above to the blog, and also a handy "contact your Congresscritter" link.

Anyone with new photos, ideas, feedback, etc., can send email to Note that both Zuska and I have access, so private messages to Zuska should go to her email address listed on this blog, and not the Beggar Nation address.

I'm going to make a post at the blog later today with some ideas that I have, and a call for submissions.

Please send feedback!!!


I agree that offering some anonymity, especially as contributors aren't necessarily asking permission first, is the considerate thing to do.

@ 20,21:

I'm going to use my favorite open-source photo editing tool (shameless plug) GIMP to edit out last names, and crop out as much of the extraneous stuff as possible. Also, I'm probably only going to post the state in which the jar was found.

I have asked those who take photos to leave a note pointing the owner of the jar to the blog. If someone asks me to remove a photo, I will, but I will try to make sure it is a legit request somehow.


Yes, I think the blog could serve that purpose well, along with discussion points and more... I think there's an opportunity to do more than just a Flickr album here ...


A really great idea. I'll see what I can do.

Nora, I have been sick and then my internet has been out for several days. I just checked and did not see any comments waiting in moderation.

Thanks for posting the link to that video - it is right on target.