The price of political posturing on health care
The Kansas City Star
In my last year of medical school I was part of a surgical team and met Tom, a 54-year-old farmhand. Tom’s skin was dark and leathery from years of planting and harvesting wheat, soybeans and sunflowers in the sun. He came to us with severe belly pain, nausea, vomiting and the inability to use the bathroom for roughly a week. After a thorough assessment and numerous tests the team found that Tom had a mass in his bladder.
We held our collective breath, but our worst fears were realized: Tom had cancer.
The advanced stage of his cancer meant that he needed surgery and radiation to even have a chance at cure. However, he was uninsured, and his medical bills were already in the tens of thousands of dollars from this admission alone. Tom was left with two options: bankruptcy or death.
It is appalling and tragic that anyone in our state and great nation would have to face this decision. Unfortunately, Tom is one of many patients who I have seen suffer from a system that leaves behind millions. Tom takes personal responsibility for himself and his health. He does not smoke (one of the biggest risk factors for bladder cancer), lives an active lifestyle, works hard every day at a job that contributes to society, and pays his taxes. As a farm worker he has worked his entire life to feed families across Kansas and the United States. His work ethic, personal responsibility and humility are some of the qualities that make me proud to be from Kansas.
However, when Tom needed help, he was left on his own.
Tom, along with tens of millions of Americans, will benefit from the insurance expansions in the new health reform law, popularly known as “Obamacare,” once it is enacted in 2014. However, with Kansas and many other states dragging their feet, millions will continue to die, suffer and be bankrupted.
Gov. Sam Brownback and 15 other governors refuse to accept federal dollars for the establishment of a health insurance exchange that would cover 15 million people across the country.
Despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law and that President Barack Obama was re-elected (not to mention, former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebilieus is heading the implementation as the Secretary of Health and Human Services), Brownback continues his political posturing at the expense of Kansans’ lives and livelihood.
Tom chose to fight his cancer, but he mortgaged his future and his family’s. Tom and his family sold the house, spent their savings, and depleted their children’s college funds to treat his cancer. Now, we can do nothing but wait to see if the treatment is successful. Making Kansans choose between the care for a loved one and the family’s future is avoidable and inexcusable with the new health reform law.
Brownback can work to prevent others from facing a similar fate if he would step down from this reckless political posturing and serve the best interests of Kansans.
*Branden W. Comfort is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Kansas and has a master’s of public health from Harvard School of Public Health. The views expressed are his own. He lives in Wichita. *