Guest opinion: How ‘Trumpcare’ would leave Montanans uncovered

April 26, 2017 GMT

I watched with interest the efforts of our House of Representatives to replace the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) with the American Health Care Reform Act (TrumpCare). If we are seriously ill or badly hurt, most of us can’t afford to pay for the medical care we need. Both ObamaCare and TrumpCare use a combination of money from taxpayers and money from insurance premiums to pay our doctors.

That money is controlled by government employees following government regulations, or insurance employees following corporate regulations. Either way, some “bureaucrat” is going to decide whether you get the money – and the medical care – you need. Or not.

When Greg Gianforte tells you that he’s against a “career bureaucrat who has never been to Montana” trying to decide your “health care needs” he’s just playing you for a sucker. He’s all for insurance companies from other states selling insurance here. The truth is: There’s going to be somebody who holds the health care checkbook. It won’t be you. It won’t be your doctor.

Detecting leukemia

When I got leukemia, insurance paid for my chemo. Before that, insurance paid my doctor to figure out what was wrong with me. Before that, insurance paid my doctor to give me annual exams. Cancer is not always obvious. In many cases it sneaks up on you, starting in one place then establishing beachheads in multiple places until it’s got you by the throat. Giving your doctor multiple chances to find it before it moves out of its original hiding place turns out to be a really good idea.

When I was diagnosed, I had no symptoms. In fact, the evidence that something was wrong was pretty thin: During an annual physical my primary doc noticed that I was just a little bit below the bottom range of “normal” for white blood cell count. That would ordinarily not be alarming, but he could see a downward trend line over the course of my last few annual checkups. So he sent me to an oncologist for a closer look. A biopsy sent to the Mayo Clinic confirmed a rare form of leukemia. A course of chemo followed, essentially destroying my immune system, which magically regenerated without the cancer.

This contrasts to the experience of my grandfather. William Walter Howard raised corn and cattle on a small place north of Worden, a few miles east of Billings. He got his cancer diagnosis, ironically, from the Mayo Clinic too. His lympho sarcoma (which also involves white blood cells) was diagnosed too late. Without insurance, he didn’t have access to the screening and treatment that ultimately saved my life. He died 10 months later. He was 60 years old. He never got to see any of his nine grandchildren.

After my cancer was defeated, I quoted my favorite poem at my oldest boy’s wedding. I was there when my daughter got her Ph.D. I watched the first public performance of my youngest boy, playing his mandolin and singing lyrics he had written himself. Important events I may have missed if not for my insurance paying for screening and then treatment for my cancer.

No minimum mandates

Gianforte wants to be President Trump’s man in D.C. Under the TrumpCare bill pushed by the president and Speaker Paul Ryan, there would be no requirement to buy insurance. Insurance policies themselves would have no minimum requirements. Annual exams: not required. Chemotherapy coverage: not required. Ironically, if you got a cancer diagnosis out of the blue and did not have insurance, Trump and Ryan would put you in a “high risk” government “pool” where you would find a “career bureaucrat” standing between you and the money to pay for treatment, the very thing Gianforte says is a terrible idea.

If cancer comes looking to kill me again, I want the medical equivalent of an AR-15. TrumpCare offers a pop gun.

I don’t think I have to worry about Rob Quist gutting insurance benefits. But where does Gianforte stand? Cheap – but worthless – insurance? A “career bureaucrat” after all, when you’re predictably diagnosed late and have little time to wait for red tape? Even if you purchase insurance before you have to use it, high deductibles and minimal coverage for services could still bankrupt you while you are fighting for your life.

My grandfather missed so much – and so did I, not ever knowing him. I want our young to “take their medicine” and get some health insurance that’s worth a damn. TrumpCare ain’t it.