Contributed by Fred Barlam, LD18 Democrat
June 20, 2017

June 4th was National Cancer Survivor Day. I am a survivor, and I have been cancer free for six and one-half years now.

In mid-June 2010, after being diagnosed with lymphoma in Phoenix, I headed to my first appointment with my oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. After parking in the underground garage, my wife Sheryl, my son Seth, and my daughter-in-law Jennie walked out onto the street above. As we turned the corner, I saw the large letters with the words Sloan-Kettering at the top of the building glaring out over everyone and everything below. A surreal feeling came over me. It was difficult for my mind to truly accept the fact that I was there for cancer treatment. It was all too frightening.

As a kid growing up in New York City I knew that Sloan-Kettering was one of the best cancer hospitals in the world, and that it was where you went for treatment if you got cancer. On one hand, I was glad that my treatment, was going to be there. On the other hand, I felt extreme sadness for other cancer patients who were not going to be able to access Sloan-Kettering, or a facility like it. Not because they didn’t want to, but because they didn’t have the right health insurance, or possibly had no health insurance at all.

When I called Sloan-Kettering two weeks earlier from my home in Phoenix to make an appointment, the first thing they asked me was what type of health insurance I had. Due to my retirement from a school district in New York State in 2004, Sheryl and I are guaranteed top notch health insurance for the rest of our lives, so there was no problem with me meeting Sloan-Kettering’s criteria. The strong teacher unions in New York had made it possible for me to be treated at a world-renowned facility and receive the finest medical treatment available.

My total cancer treatment, including tests, CT scans, chemo, etc. cost over $700,000. My out of pocket costs were only a nominal $7,000, an affordable figure for almost every middle-class family. 99% of the cost of my treatment was covered by my insurance. How sad that so many others in this country do not have the same option that I had, and might even die because they could not access the care and treatment they needed.

To this day, I am secure in knowing that if my cancer returns I will again be able to access and afford the best cancer care available. That is a very reassuring feeling. Having a cancer relapse is certainly scary enough without having to worry about affording the care you need. Too many others are not so fortunate. The passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) made it possible for many of them (over 20 million more Americans) to be able to access quality, affordable medical care, and to have some peace of mind because of it.

But now, with Paul Ryan scheming to end it with the American Health Care Act (AHCA, which I call caca!) and Trump seeming to support it, many, if not most of those 20 million Americans who now have insurance from the ACA would lose it. A fellow active Arizona Democrat, Ian Danley, is one of them. Ian, current Executive Director of One Arizona (an organization dedicated to full voter participation by the Latino Community), and the Campaign Manager for David Garcia’s run for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2016, is a lymphoma survivor like me. His treatment was more intense than mine, with him receiving a transplant to save his life. If AHCA replaces the ACA, and Ian relapses and needs further cancer treatment or another transplant, he will die. It is that simple. With his pre-existing condition of lymphoma, no insurance company will give him health insurance, or health insurance at an affordable middle-class rate if they did offer it, and he cannot afford to pay for treatment on his own.

The inequity of this is astounding. With the repeal of ACA and the passage of AHCA, I, a 68-year-old retiree with guaranteed health insurance for the rest of my life would still receive whatever treatment was necessary if my lymphoma returned. Ian, a 36-year-old hard working family man with a young child and a pre-existing condition, would not be able to access health insurance, would not receive the treatment he needed, and would more than likely die if his lymphoma returned. Am I any better or more deserving than Ian? How is this fair? How is this humane?

Now, in my mind, this is really a very solid argument for the need for universal health care like all the westernized nations in the world, except the United States, currently offer. But I am willing to skip that argument for now, and concentrate on fighting the repeal of ACA and the passage of AHCA. If you haven’t done so yet, please call Senator Flake’s office at (602) 840-1891, and Senator McCain’s office at (602) 952-2410, and tell them to vote NO on AHCA. There are a hell of a lot of Ians out there with a variety of pre-existing conditions and it is the least we can do for them!

Fred Barlam, LD18 Democrat