Cancer patient to senators: Dump this bill

Steve Taylor confers with Rosalee Abbott outside Sen. Murkowski’s office. Abbott, also Alaskan, works for American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. (Photo by Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Senate leaders postponed a vote on their health care reform bill, but Alaskans opposed to the bill aren’t letting up. One Alaskan, a three-time cancer survivor, went to Washington to make his pitch directly.

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Steve Taylor is 42 and looks solid and strong. You wouldn’t pick him out as a person who requires expensive health care. He works at a title company, and lives in Anchorage with his wife, a dog and two cats. He likes to fly-fish. Until 2004, he was fine.

“I was in great health,” Taylor said. “I hadn’t been to an actual doctor in years.”

Two months after his wedding day, Taylor was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and went through chemo. A few years after that, it was pancreatic cancer.

“They ended up taking the head of my pancreas, my gall bladder, a portion of my small intestine and half my stomach,” Taylor said, in the hallway of a Senate office building, waiting to speak to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Then came melanoma. Taylor learned it’s all related to a genetic disorder. Now he has to have monthly injections that cost $10,000 apiece. Like a majority of Alaskans, Taylor has insurance through his employer. He’s glad the Affordable Care Act of 2010 eliminated lifetime caps on insurance payouts. A lot of them were set at $1 million.

“Obviously, since that time, I’ve blown by the former caps,” Taylor said.

Taylor was one of 60 patients brought to Washington by a coalition of more than a dozen patient groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. They’re trying to make the issue personal, by putting patients face-to-face with their senators.

As they were making the rounds, word filtered through the Capitol that Republican leaders didn’t have the votes for the bill and will put it off until after the July 4 recess.

Taylor was eager to tell both Alaska senators to ditch the bill and start from scratch, because he said the proposal is bad for cancer patients.

“And not just cancer patients, diabetes, anybody that has any type of chronic illness or anybody that is going to have a catastrophic illness,” Taylor said. “They deserve to be protected.”

Among his complaints: The bill would allow states to redefine what insurance has to cover, and he says there would be financial pressure to bring back the lifetime caps.

Neither Sen. Dan Sullivan nor Murkowski has announced a position on the bill.

“How am I feeling about it?” Murkowski said when asked about the bill. “I’m feeling like I still have a lot of hard questions that will require a lot of hard data.”

In Alaska, a group of protestors was outside the senators’ Anchorage office building at lunchtime, chanting “health care for everyone.”

Ex-insurance agent Michael Dzurisin said speaking out makes a point to the senators.

“I think that their eyes will open up a little more, and they’ll understand that people are hopefully on top of this issue. They’ll think more about it before they pass any bill that’s sponsored by their party,” Dzurisin said.

At that hour, both Alaska senators were with their Republican colleagues at the White House to regroup on health care. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said he expects to put a revised bill on the floor in a few weeks.

Henry Leasia contributed to this report from Anchorage.