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Commentary: Real people suffer when health care is mixed with politics

Amid the white-hot political rhetoric in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to declare that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, I remember Devin Pate of Aynor, South Carolina.

Constitutional scholars will continue to dissect the Court’s rationale in upholding a requirement that everyone who can afford a health insurance policy must eventually get one or face a fine. The Court said that mandate did not hold up under the commerce clause, but was within Congress’s ability to tax.

Americans of all political stripes have been weighing in, some saying this steels their resolve to either help land President Obama a second term or to make sure he is a single-term president.

But on days such as these, I remember Devin Pate and what she told me while suffering from a rare cancer.

“My biggest fear and frustration is not having the money to pay my bills every month,” Devin told me. “My mom helps when she can, but she has plenty of bills of her own that she struggles to pay. And she has to pay those so we can have water, electricity, and a roof over our head.”

Lost in the circus that has become the health care reform debate are real people with real problems.

Tens of millions of people go without health care coverage every year, including almost a fifth of South Carolina’s residents. Tens of thousands of those people die annually in large part because they are not covered, according to studies from institutions such as Harvard University.

Unexpected medical emergencies top the list of causes of personal bankruptcy, according to researchers.

People have been losing their homes and jobs and savings and all their earthly wealth.

A countless number of people have been forced to work beyond the day they should have taken off their work boots up, or have stayed in dead-end jobs because it was the only way they could afford health care coverage, the cost of which has skyrocketed.

Out-of-control health care costs represent the biggest threat to this country’s fiscal health.

And then there are people like Devin who have been bumped off their parent’s insurance plans after reaching a certain age, denied access to coverage because of a pre-existing condition – Devin had huge cancerous tumors growing inside her, slowly draining her of life – or because they’ve cost the insurance company too much money in a year or over a few years’ time.

Because of the way we handle insurance in this country, people like Devin haven’t even been able to die in peace. In this country, we’ve been allowing people to suffer for the sin of getting too sick.

That’s not a game.

It’s not a political slogan.

It’s real.

We’ve spent a considerable amount of time arguing about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, and a lot of that debate has included misleading facts and hype about what the law is and isn’t and will or won’t do.

After the Court upheld the law, many quickly took to parsing what it means to have the individual mandate fall under Congress’s ability to tax rather than its power to regulate health care under the commerce clause.

Others simply began yelling and pointing towards November.

At some point, I hope more of us remember the Devins of the world and understand our focus needs to be on making things better for people caught in their predicament.

She died in November after a valiant fight and never lost faith, even while battling the tumors and struggling with the health bills that made her parents worry.

At some point, I hope we put aside the vitriol and work together to make the health care system better for people like her.