As a 29-Year-Old Cancer Patient, I Find Paul Ryan’s Argument Against Health Insurance Appalling


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As a 29-Year-Old Cancer Patient, I Find Paul Ryan’s Argument Against Health Insurance Appalling

No one should have to decide between being bankrupt or dead.

In mid-January I got my annual physical. I passed with flying colors. Everything looked great, I passed all the tests, I can ride a bike 100 miles at a clip, I eat well, and so on. Two weeks later I was diagnosed with cancer.

Now I have to deal with the fact that my body has gone rogue, and that evil things are growing inside me. And yet I feel extremely lucky: I've got good health insurance, and I live in a city with excellent doctors. Millions aren't nearly as fortunate.


Today, Paul Ryan attempted to defend his disastrous healthcare proposal by making the argument that health insurance is little more than a scheme by which sick people siphon money out of healthy people's paychecks. I have three thoughts about this type of malignant buffoonery:

First, none of us are ever perfectly safe. You could get hit by a bus or have your appendix explode at any moment. It's just a hazard of being alive. It's better than the alternative.

Second, no one plans their disasters. We know that having more people with access to healthcare, especially of the preventative variety, means catching more problems before they turn into worst case scenarios. I'm exceedingly lucky to have caught my cancer relatively early.

But if we also want to talk money, the fact that I was able to easily see a doctor for $40 meant saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in healthcare costs because I didn't wait until cancer spread even further than it has. If I was without insurance, as has been the case at various points in my career, I definitely would have waited until I was screwed. Waiting until you're screwed costs a lot of money in the end, and no one should have to decide between being bankrupt or dead.

Third, healthcare is not a casino. No one in their right mind is going to go to their death bed talking about how they got more out of the insurance system than they put in. We all know we have to guard against the worst so we don't need to stress about healthcare disasters all the time.


Anyone who doesn't understand these points has lived a life of protected privilege beyond anything we could understand, and I say that as someone who already knows he's extremely lucky.

I'm also exceedingly lucky to not have to worry about dying. I don't know how difficult treatment is going to be, but I do know that, thanks to the doctors I can afford, I will make it out the other side. I feel guilty even talking about it, because I know many others won't.

And yet I also know that, for the rest of my life, no matter how many miles I ride my bike or how much goddamned kale I eat, I am going to have to worry about health insurance. I'm 29 and otherwise healthy, but that all pales to having a preexisting condition thanks to a testicle that decided to betray me.

This is just life. We deal with it! And then we move on to things that make every day worth living.

I'm able to deal with it because I was able to buy into an insurance system built on collective responsibility: Those who get sick are able to get care, and those who don't can rest easy knowing they've still got their health. They can also rest easy knowing they haven't had to stare at a doctor who's struggling to break bad news, or had to sit on their couch staring at a draft of a text message for twenty minutes, afraid to tell their mom that shit just got worse.

Ryan doesn't appear to understand any of these realities, and if he does, then he's too obsessed with helping the wealthy to care about the rest of us.