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Harold Pollack on the Strange Lack of Empathy of the New Mitt Romney

Harold Pollack:

In sickness and in health: like Ann Romney. She strikes me as a charming, dignified, and tough advocate for her husband’s presidential campaign. On Thursday, she appeared on Entertainment Tonight to discuss her experiences as a breast cancer survivor and her challenges arising from multiple sclerosis. Having sat white-knuckled in a gritty Chicagoland hospital waiting room as my wife lay unconscious in the cardiac ICU, I feel some kinship with Mitt Romney in seeing a life partner facing profound medical challenge. [But] neither Romney nor I know what it felt like for many families sitting near me, who faced a medical crisis while also fearing crushing medical bills.

In 2008, I happened to speak at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s annual meeting…. MS is financially punishing for so many people who lack economic resources or insurance that really covers a complex chronic disease. A heartbreaking NPR story compared the experiences of two MS patients: one in Great Britain, and one in the United States. I’ll let you guess which one was driven to split his pills, became medically uninsured, qualified for disability but fell into the two-year Medicare waiting period, lost his home, and went bankrupt…. In May, 2008, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society enunciated seven principles it wanted to see enacted in health reform.

  • Health coverage should be accessible for all.
  • Health services and coverage should be affordable for all.
  • Standards for coverage of specific treatments should reflect reasonable prospects for patient benefit.
  • Disparities in care should be eliminated.
  • Comprehensive, quality health care should be available to all individuals, and this is especially important for people with chronic diseases.
  • The value of health care should be increased through the universal use of interoperable electronic medical records and increased emphasis on prevention.
  • People should have access to high-quality, long-term supports and services (including assistive technologies) in settings that best meet their needs.

This was a virtual summary of what became the Affordable Care Act…. Mitt Romney pledges to overturn many of the [ACA] provisions, especially those that provide financial supports and expanded coverage….

Mr. and Mrs. Romney might ponder why so many people whose lives have been altered by chronic disease and disability become passionate supporters of health reform. Some of these advocates directly experience medical-economic hardship. Others have not faced the most punishing financial consequences. They merely see what happens to others, less-privileged, who face the same medical challenges with fewer resources.

Like the Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky, I’m dismayed that Mr. Romney chose a different course. Anyone who’s sat in those hospital waiting rooms should know better.