Much has been written in the last few months about the need for poor and elderly citizens to have access to health care, and Maine Senators Angus King and Susan Collins have thankfully been leading the charge nationally to prevent any cuts to Medicaid, which protects those populations. However, very little has been written about another group whose need for care is so obvious that it has been largely overlooked: People who are sick.

I am referring to sickness beyond a mere cold or broken bone. Millions of Americans suffer from serious or chronic illnesses that render them (and sometimes the family members who care for them) unable to work.

To hear Republicans Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan talk about it, those who are too poor to afford health care are lazy and should just get a job. Unfortunately, that narrative ignores two obvious realities. First, many people who work full time still cannot afford health care. Second, when people are very sick, they have to stop working. And if they are sick for a long time, they lose their jobs, their income, and their access to health care, which was either supplied by their job or paid for by the money they earned working their job. When that happens, the sick person is unable to afford the medical care (not to mention food and housing) they desperately need at the time they need it most — even if they did everything “right” and had the good paying job and health insurance at the time they got sick. The ruthlessness and inanity of such a system boggles the mind.

One person whose recent sickness brings this debate into sharp relief, and someone who has the power to influence the outcome significantly, is Sen. John McCain. For those readers who may not have heard the latest on the health care bill, the Senate discussion of the bill and subsequent vote have been delayed while Sen. McCain recovers from brain surgery to remove a clot above his left eye.

There is a fitting, and yet cruel, irony here: The vote on a bill that would take health care away from millions of people is being held up because the medical condition of one person who has the power to take that health care away has rendered him unable to do so. That senator, like millions of people who have fallen ill through no fault of their own, is unable to do his job.

Unlike millions of Americans, Sen. McCain is probably not going to lose his job or access to medical care as a result of his condition. Let’s hope, however, that he has the humility and wisdom to see that every American who has the misfortune to be sick should have the good fortune to be able to seek and receive the medical care they need.

Let’s hope Sen. McCain will join Sens. King and Collins (and 48 other senators) in voting no on a bill that would devastate the medical system, which represents 20 percent of our economy, and make health care more expensive and less attainable when people need it most.

Nacole Palmer
Bowdoin