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Guest Commentary: Congress, Do Not Let Us Down

Editor’s Note: The following is a letter that Linda Sobel Katz, a former aide to ex-Rep. Mike Barnes (D-Md.), wrote to Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). With her permission, he submitted it to the Congressional Record. Friends asked Maryland Matters to publish it as well.

By Linda Sobel Katz

In the late 1970s and early 80s, I was honored to be an aide to Maryland Congressman Mike Barnes on international human rights issues. It was my job to help Rep. Barnes speak out for those suffering discrimination and worse in their homelands.

The climate in Congress was different then. Democrats and Republicans willingly forged coalitions to protect and rescue individuals from hostile leadership far from our shores. As a communications consultant, this is the path I have chosen for my life’s work — to champion causes to help better humanity and our environment.

Never did I ever think I would need to speak out for myself, especially to the esteemed U.S. Congress — once a beacon of democracy, fairness, and justice to the free world and those silenced by totalitarianism.

As an American citizen who deeply cherishes our land, I am horrified by the indifference of the majority in Congress who would strike out against innocent Americans. First, against children who are losing their CHIP coverage. To what gain? And now, against Americans suffering from one of humankind’s worst diseases — cancer. To what benefit?

What you are doing is causing a sense of powerlessness and despair among those you have a sworn duty to protect. I am such a constituent. As of this writing, you still have not restored the Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHIP, which expired Sept. 30. And you show the worst side of your natures by denying coverage for cancer treatment to those over 65 and paying for Medicare.

I have been raising my granddaughter Sabrina, as her legal guardian, for the past 10 years since the death of her mother when Sabrina was four. During this time, I also spent seven years caring for a husband with Alzheimer’s. Formerly co-owner of an insurance agency, my husband Hershel was denied long-term care coverage because of two prior heart attacks in his 40s and 50s. CHIP has been a godsend.

We paid for Hershel’s huge health needs out of pocket, and it was nerve-wracking to consider whether our family could survive financially.

I am grateful that we are able to live in my home of nearly 40 years in a comforting neighborhood of Silver Spring, just outside the Nation’s Capital.

Less than a year after my husband’s passing in November 2015 — with NO SYMPTOMS, other than a yellow tinge to my eyeballs, and feeling in good health — I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly forms of this insidious disease. I have been in chemotherapy at Georgetown University Hospital for a year and remain stable after an initial setback that prevented me from undergoing a previously planned Whipple surgery to remove the tumor.

But chemotherapy is not a permanent fix and has its own limiting side effects. With my oncologist, we must explore clinical trials and other emerging treatments to find a way for me to stay alive so I can continue to raise my granddaughter, now 13 and in 8th grade. Robust federal funding for cancer research is so critical to the survival of cancer patients. And so is the reassurance of coverage for treatment through Medicare.

Dear members of Congress, do not wash your hands of cancer patients on Medicare. So many of us continue to contribute to family life and society in myriad, constructive ways. Surely, you must have family members, friends, and constituents suffering from cancer through no fault of their own. Why strip away our hope and ability to live fully and be useful members of our communities? Why choose to be cruel, heartless, and mindless leaders lacking compassion for your fellow citizens? You are fostering an unjust world, not the America that sets the example for civilized behavior and wins universal respect.

I have a personal wish to live five more years so that I can continue to raise my beautiful, bright, and wise granddaughter and see her graduate from high school and be launched into a future of service and commitment in a gracious and caring world.

Yes, she does wonder what will happen to her if I die because cancer treatment is no longer accessible to me, especially knowing that her U.S. government precipitated this hostile action. What a tremendous burden for a young teen!

So, I ask: What will you do to ensure that children have a healthy future and that cancer patients get the care they deserve? Our health care system should be a model in a world still craving for leadership from America. Do not let us down.


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Guest Commentary: Congress, Do Not Let Us Down