If you haven’t heard about Luis Lang’s excellent adventure, you’re in for a treat. Because this South Carolina handyman is one of those people who hated Obamacare until the very moment that he needed it. And then – voila! – he decided he was no longer a Republican.
That’s what happens when right-wing ideology collides with flesh-and-blood reality. We’ve seen this before. In Pennsylvania last year, a self-employed logger named Dean Angstadt needed life-saving heart surgery, but had refused to sign up for Obamacare because Fox News (“that’s basically what I watch on TV”) had dissuaded him. A friend finally got him to enroll, he got the surgery, and he said that if not for Obamacare, he “probably would have ended up falling over dead.”
It’s always nice to put a human face on an issue. Luis Lang is the latest. According to a story in the Charlotte Observer, Lang, a 49-year-old lifelong Republican, never had health coverage and had always paid his modest medical bills out of pocket. After Obamacare was enacted, he duly ignored the provision that required him to buy coverage. He was a pull-himself-up-by-the-bootstraps kinda guy.
But then his eyes started to bleed.
Turned out, he’d suffered a series of mini-strokes, a detached retina, and complications from diabetes. Plus, grinding headaches. The emergency room docs warned him that if he didn’t have costly eye surgery, he risked going blind. Suddenly he had medical bills on the cusp of 10 grand, and he couldn’t pay them because, as a self-employed handyman, he couldn’t work.
Well, he said, I guess I’d better check out this Obamacare after all.
He did. And this was when he awoke to reality – as scripted by the Republicans, with a spiritual assist from Franz Kafka.
South Carolina doesn’t have a state health exchange program, because the GOP regime has refused to set one up. So Lang looked at the federal exchange program, which covers people who live in the refusal states. Under the federal program, low-income people can often get federal subsidies to help them buy private coverage. But Lang’s fluctuating income was so low that he didn’t qualify for a federal subsidy.
Obamacare does offer another option: Health coverage through Medicaid, the government program for poor people. But Lang discovered that he couldn’t get that coverage, either – because, just like 20 other red states, South Carolina has refused to expand its Medicaid program to cover people like Lang. Alas, if only Lang lived in a blue state, or in a handful of Republican-run states (like Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich has expanded Medicaid), he would’ve been covered.
Somewhere on this journey, Lang the heretofore loyal Republican has come to realize certain things. He tells a progressive website: “Now that I’m looking at what each party represents, my wife and I are both saying – ‘hey, we’re not Republicans!’ I put the blame on everyone – Republican and Democrat. But I do mainly blame Republicans for their pigheadedness. They’re blocking policies that could help everyone. I’m in the situation I’m in because they chose not to expand Medicaid for political reasons. And I know I’m not the only one….This whole thing has helped me see more clearly. Like they say, hindsight is 20/20.”
Lang is not out of options – yet. He has gone online to raise money for his surgery (although Obamacare supporters are giving him grief; one guy jeers, “How’s that ‘personal responsibility’ thing working out for you?”). And some health experts say that if Lang can manage to jack up his reported income just a wee bit, he still might be able to qualify for a federal subsidy in the federal marketplace.
But the latter scenario is shaky….because next month, on the U.S. Supreme Court, the five Republican appointees might decide, in King v. Burwell, to throw out the federal subsidies. Franz Kafka, ostensibly dead for nearly 100 years, is apparently alive and well.
Meanwhile, Luis Lang says he wants to rip up his Republican voter registration card on national TV. Actually, South Carolina doesn’t register its voters by party, but I get what he’s saying. And, like Dean Angstadt in Pennsylvania (“It was Obama’s plan that probably saved my life”), Lang won’t be the last to say it.
Have a great holiday weekend! I’ll write something on Monday, but darned if I know what.