Editor’s note: This column was first published in the News-Journal on April 23, 2016.
President Obama gets a lot of mail every day. It’s impossible for him to reply to thousands of writers, but he asks his staff to select 10 letters every day that he reads to get a feel for the conditions of typical Americans.
A recent letter from a young man in Wisconsin probably gave the president a lot of satisfaction given all the criticism he’s received over the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
The writer, Brent Brown, described himself as a Republican who opposed Obamacare until he got treatment for a serious autoimmune disease through the act. His letter was released by the White House ahead of Obama’s appearance last month in Milwaukee to recognize the city for signing up 89,000 people for health coverage through the ACA. Here’s the entire text of his letter:
“To My President,
“I sincerely hope that this reaches you, as far too often praise is hard to come by. Apologies to people who deserve it perhaps less so.
“I did not vote for you. Either time. I have voted Republican for the entirety of my life. I proudly wore pins and planted banners displaying my Republican loyalty. I was very vocal in my opposition to you — particularly the ACA.
“Before I briefly explain my story allow me to first say this: I am very sorry. I understand written content cannot convey emotions very well — but my level of conviction has me in tears as I write this. I was so very wrong. So very very wrong.
“You saved my life. I want that to sink into your ears and mind. My President, you saved my life, and I am eternally grateful.
“I have a ‘pre-existing condition’ and so could never purchase health insurance. Only after the ACA came into being could I be covered. Put simply to not take up too much of your time if you are in fact taking the time to read this: I would not be alive today without access to care I received due to your law.
“So thank you from a dumb young man who thought he knew it all and who said things about you that he now regrets. Thank you for serving me even when I didn’t vote for you.
“Thank you for being my President.
“Honored to have lived under your leadership and guidance.
“Brent Nathan Brown”
Obama took time during his visit to Milwaukee to meet Brown who personally expressed his thanks to the president. The White House also released a more recent message from Brown explaining his health care situation.
“Before the Affordable Care Act, I was unable to pay for an incredibly expensive drug that helps to stabilize my condition,” Brown wrote. Afterwards, “I was finally able to receive the quality of care that had eluded me for years.”
Brown’s situation is hardly unique and that includes my own family. Under Obamacare, my wife’s younger sister finally got to see a doctor for medical treatment for a pre-existing condition she had put off for years because her family couldn’t afford health insurance.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have voted more than 60 times to repeal the ACA, but not once have they offered a realistic alternative. The most talked about replacement is focused on tax credits that do little for the working poor who often pay little or no taxes to offset a credit.
Once again, it’s a solution that benefits the wealthiest Americans who need it the least and similar to the Bush tax cuts that gave 80% of the benefits to the top 20% in income.
Finally, let me re-state my position on the wealthy. I have nothing against wealthy people; maybe a stroke of good fortune someday will improve my economic status. However, I also believe that the people who benefit the most from our economic system should pay a proportionate share of the tax burden.
Tax laws provide tremendous loopholes for corporations and wealthy individuals to legally shelter their income, not even considering the tax cheats who move money to offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes.
Let’s hope this country never realizes Leona Helmsley’s philosophy on paying taxes. Before she was sentenced to jail for tax evasion, the hotel heiress famously was quoted that “Only little people pay taxes.”