2017-01-11 / Front Page

Obamacare in the balance

King on Senate floor: health insurance saved his life
BY DARCIE MOORE
Times Record Staff


SPEAKING IN FAVOR of the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, spoke on the floor of the Senate late Monday night, sharing a personal story about how having health insurance saved his life 43 years ago. A free checkup led to the discovery that he had malignant melanoma, he said. 
SCREEN GRAB VIA OFFICE OF SEN. ANGUS KING SPEAKING IN FAVOR of the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, spoke on the floor of the Senate late Monday night, sharing a personal story about how having health insurance saved his life 43 years ago. A free checkup led to the discovery that he had malignant melanoma, he said. SCREEN GRAB VIA OFFICE OF SEN. ANGUS KING BRUNSWICK

“I want to do something a little different,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said during a late debate on the Senate floor Monday night about the future of the Affordable Care Act.

The Brunswick resident opposes the repeal of the ACA — also known as Obamacare — which would strip health care away from tens of millions of Americans, including more than 75,000 in Maine. Republicans in Congress have actively worked for the repeal of the ACA since its passage in 2010, and Presidentelect Donald Trump has promised its replacement.

“This isn’t easy for me, but I want to tell my own story and why I feel so strongly about the issue of health insurance for all of our people,” King said.

King was a junior staff member 43 years ago in the United States Senate, which provided him with health insurance. He had free preventive care exactly like that required by the Affordable Care Act.

He was able to get a free checkup in late January or early February of 1974 — the first he’d had in eight or nine years.

“As I was putting my shirt back on, the doctor said, ‘Well, you have a mole on your back, Angus, and I think you ought to keep an eye on it,’” King said.

He had the mole removed since he didn’t have to worry about the cost.

“When they called me to come back in — I will never forget this moment as long as I live — the doctor said, ‘Angus, I think you had better sit down.’ And he told me that I had what was called malignant melanoma,” King said.

He called it a virulent form of cancer and if you don’t catch it in time, you will die.

“I caught it in time. I had surgery,” King said. “They took out a big hunk of my back in surgery and up under my arm. To this day, my shoulder is still numb from that surgery, but here I am.”

It has haunted him ever since that his life was saved because he had health insurance. He knows many others have not been so lucky.

King said in 2009, the American Journal of Public Health did a comprehensive study, concluding that for every million people who are uninsured, you can predict about 1,000 premature unnecessary deaths.

“Right now, we are talking about over 20 million people who have been afforded health insurance, either through the exchanges or through the expansion of Medicaid, who didn’t have it before,” he said. “If we take that away, that is 22,000 deaths a year. How can we do that with good conscience?”

The issue is personal for him.

“This is about life itself,” he said. “It is about our ethics, our morality, and our obligation to our fellow citizens.”

Last week, King cosponsored an amendment that would stop efforts to dismantle the law, and he joined with several of his centrist colleagues in urging Senate leadership to discuss improvements to the law before rushing to fast-track a repeal. Tuesday, he offered five amendments to legislation currently under consideration by the Senate that would preserve critical facets of the ACA and that would protect health insurance and vital programs.

Tuesday afternoon, he again took the Senate floor, sharing stories of Mainers helped by the ACA.

A Freeport woman wrote to King about how ACA saved her husband’s life and allowed her the freedom to pursue her own design business. Because the couple had the Maine Community Health Options insurance, with an affordable deductible, her husband got a CT scan on his lungs. He found out he had a rare form of an illness. “There is no cure for what he has but he’s doing better now, thanks to the ACA,” she wrote.

King shared the story of a 31-year-old Ellsworth man who watched his mom die “because market solutions refused to solve her problems.… The insurance market before the ACA is one of a number of factors that led to my mom’s death.”

“I am begging you, as a son who watched his mom, who was younger than you, die in a hospital because she couldn’t afford the care she needed, please protect the Affordable Care Act,” the man wrote.

King acknowledged the ACA is not perfect. For example it doesn’t address that the U.S. pays twice as much for health care per capita than almost anyone else in the world, which is an issue that must be discussed.

“But, in the meantime, let’s remember those people who are counting on us for their very lives. That’s a commitment I believe we can and should meet.”

dmoore@timesrecord.com

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