'Healthy People Can Turn Into Sick People Really Fucking Suddenly'

A dad shares the story of his late son—and why the Republican health bill is so inhumane.
June 27, 2017, 5:26pm
Ken Norton/Twitter

With the Senate slouching toward a healthcare bill that would lead to 15 million more people without insurance next year, social media has lit up with stories about healthcare's effect on actual, real-life people. There's the bartender who could never afford insurance and instead relied on shoplifted fish antibiotics—now covered under the Affordable Care Act. The mother whose three-year-old son needed multiple open-heart surgeries that would have cost more than $200,000 apiece without insurance. The people who survived cancer thanks to Obamacare. The children who didn't, but whose parents didn't go bankrupt treating their cancer thanks to the law.


Ken Norton, a partner at Google Ventures in San Francisco, recently took to Twitter to talk about his son Riley, who was born with a severe heart defect in 2003. Norton explains how his employer-provided health insurance kept Riley alive for 11 years, giving him the best healthcare available until he died in 2014. Even so, Norton knew that if he ever lost coverage, his family would go bankrupt; Riley's care cost more than $3 million dollars, all of it covered by insurance. Norton's employer had to cover Riley with no annual or lifetime limits.

This wasn't the case for people who had to buy their own insurance before Obamacare—they could be denied or charged such exorbitant premiums that they were effectively denied. Norton explains how he was interested in starting his own business or joining a startup but he couldn't because he needed to keep his employer-based insurance. He was stuck. The Senate bill to repeal Obamacare would let states choose to set their own essential health benefits, which could bring back annual and lifetime limits depending on where you live and make people stuck all over again.

Norton also took aim at the Republican argument that it's not fair that healthy people have to pay for the needs of sick people, which drives up their costs. "When a family member is this severely sick, even the tiniest chance of going without health coverage is terrifying and means bankruptcy. But here's the thing: there are no 'healthy' and 'sick' people. Healthy people can turn into sick people really fucking suddenly," he wrote, continuing, "I'm here to tell you that there is no 'us and them' no responsible 'taxpayers and irresponsible moochers, we are them and they are us.


"I don't want a tax cut. I want everybody to have what we had. Because we are humans."

Read Ken and Riley's story:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican senators should hear more of these stories (though 1990's McConnell seemed to understand the problem) to remind them that this legislation has very real consequences. Making healthcare unaffordable means more people living horror stories, as well as losing the regular, ongoing care that saves lives. As McConnell twists arms and makes deals to push through his bill, he should have to think about people like Ken and Riley Norton, and the countless other sharing their stories.

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