Sunday, April 2, 2017

The most dangerous place on earth

It came back to me as Congress debated whether to replace the Affordable Care Act with legislation that would take away the health insurance of 24 million Americans.

It was several years ago. I saw her obituary. She and her husband had once been close friends. Time passed. They divorced. We lost touch. I hadn’t seen her for a long while and was shocked to learn of her untimely death. During her memorial service, I learned my friend died of cancer. One of her close friends offered the eulogy. She recounted the long nights of pain my friend suffered, unable to afford pain meds or adequate treatment.

She had the same health insurance then as she would have under TrumpCare. None. In all honesty, as a low-wage working person, she probably wouldn’t have had insurance under Obamacare either since she lived in Wyoming, a state heartlessly refusing to expand Medicaid.

What is it about Wyoming’s politicians that enables them to watch the suffering of others and do nothing to end it?

Take Senator John Barrasso for instance, he who nominated himself “Wyoming’s doctor.” As this physician became a Senator, he exchanged his Hippocratic Oath for photo opps standing next to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. People in Washington joke sarcastically that there is no more dangerous place on earth than the few square feet between Barrasso and Fox News camera.

The Senator thinks a more dangerous place would be a town hall meeting. Actually, both are wrong. There is a far more dangerous place. It’s the dreadful space in which people without health insurance find themselves. The uninsured have few if any sources for preventive care or treatment other than the limited care provided in emergency rooms. As a result, they get far sicker and die much earlier than those with insurance.

Inexplicably “Wyoming’s doctor” doesn’t empathize with the uninsured. He believes healthcare is not a human right, but a privilege to be rationed only to those who can afford it.

He makes self-serving claims about how he once provided charity care for the uninsured. Perhaps he did. But the stories most often heard are told by people who are turned away without an appointment when they can’t present an insurance card.

Telling the uninsured they should be satisfied that some docs provide charity care is like church leaders supporting cuts in food stamps because their congregation donates food to the food bank. First, neither is sufficient to meet the medical or food security needs of the community. Second, each begs the question of government’s role in meeting both obligations.

Stories like that of my friend could haunt the members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation if they bothered to hear them. Alas, they’re not haunted by anything other than what they derisively call “Obamacare.”

How do you make politicians like John Barrasso aware when what he really craves is status among his party’s elite and status among them depends on being unaware?

“Wyoming’s doctor” is sadly unable to correctly diagnose the healthcare policy issues confronting his constituents. Most often, when a doctor is unable to correctly diagnose a patient’s ailment, it’s because the doctor isn’t listening closely enough.

The Senator could cure this problem with a town hall meeting. There he’d hear from victims of his choices and the stories of people for whom repeal of Obamacare may be a death sentence. He’d feel the angst among those who, for the first time, have insurance but fear they will lose it under TrumpCare. Wyoming’s doctor might be surprised to learn how many of his “patients” support a single-payor system.

If Barrasso’s allergy for town hall meetings persists as the GOP prepares another run at “repealing and replacing” Obamacare, maybe he could take time to sit in the emergency room of a Wyoming hospital. Meet the people who come there. Hear their stories. Talk to their families. Listen as they speak about their fears.

Wyoming’s doctor might learn something there that he will never learn at a party caucus.


  1. EXCELLENT essay! I had "hopes" for Barrasso when he first became on of Wyoming's senators--but, alas, there is no one in the Senate chamber who is more clueless and uncaring (unless one happens to be one of the "HAVES")than our "dear" Senator Barrasso.

  2. John was a reasonable state senator but the day he arrived in DC, he decided he decided he needed to be with the "in crowd."