Raskin Recalls Battle With Cancer in Plea for Medicare for All

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)

Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin delivered an impassioned plea for Medicare for All legislation on Tuesday, recalling his battle with colon cancer nearly a decade ago.

Nine years ago, Raskin, then a state senator, went to see his doctor for reflux systems, he said.

When he woke up from tests, they told him, “Well, we’ve got good news and bad news. The endoscopy went fine but we found something in the colonoscopy.” He was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer, for which he underwent radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.

He had a “great health insurance plan,” at the time, he said. But, “I can’t imagine any of my fellow citizens going through such a trauma, something of such an enormous psychological and family strain as that and not know where they’re going to get insurance.”

Raskin said the experience taught him about the difference between misfortune and injustice.

“Any of us could be assigned such a verdict on any particular day,” he said. “If you experience such a misfortune and you get such a diagnosis and you can’t get health care, because you love the wrong person or you lost your job or you’re not working or you’re too poor, that’s not a misfortune, that’s an injustice because we can do something about that.”

He added, “In the richest country in the history of our species at its richest moment, not to advance forward to adopt a Medicare for all system is to deny, I think, the common humanity of our fellow citizens.”

Raskin is a co-sponsor of the legislation, which was debated Tuesday at a House Rules Committee hearing, the first time Congress has held a hearing on the policy. Maryland Democratic Reps. Anthony G. Brown, John P. Sarbanes and Elijah E. Cummings are also co-sponsors.

‘GoFundMe is a terrible substitute’

One of the witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing was Ady Barkan, 35, a well-known activist with ALS who has lost his ability to speak. He traveled from his home in California to Capitol Hill to describe his family’s struggles to pay his medical bills since his diagnosis with the fatal degenerative neurological condition.

Three years ago, Barkan and his wife “felt like we had reached the mountaintop,” he told lawmakers through a computer because his diaphragm and tongue are no longer up to the task.

“We had fulfilling careers, a wonderful community of friends and family and a smiling, chubby infant boy,” he said.

Then he was diagnosed with ALS and given a life expectancy of three to four years.

Since then, the family has grappled with out-of-pocket health care costs. Even though his family has comparatively good private health insurance, he said, he’s paying about $9,000 per month for in-home care. The alternative, he said, would be to go into a nursing home away from his family. To fund his care, they’re cobbling together money from friends, family and supporters.

“GoFundMe is a terrible substitute for smart congressional action,” Barkan said at the House Rules Committee hearing, as he urged lawmakers to enact Medicare for All.

Barkan is an organizer with the Center for Popular Democracy. He made headlines in 2017 when he confronted then-Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) on a plane about the GOP tax plan.

House Democrats are hoping to advance the Medicare for All legislation despite its bleak prospects at winning support from the U.S. Senate or President Trump.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, accused House Republicans of spending nearly a decade in power “talking only about how to rip health care away from people.”

The Democratic House majority, he said, “is here to discuss how to expand it and how to lower costs and improve outcomes in the process.”

He acknowledged that it’ll be a steep climb, politically.

“I know we won’t pass this bill overnight, but we won’t pass it unless we start the dialogue,” McGovern said.

Republicans, meanwhile, have depicted the effort as a “socialist” takeover of the health care system that will result in worse coverage at a high cost to taxpayers.

“What Democrats are proposing today would completely change America’s health care system, and not in my view, for the better,” said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the top Republican on the Rules Committee. “This bill is a socialist proposal that threatens freedom of choice and would allow Washington to impose one-size-fits-all plans on the American people.”

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