You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

A Republican Cancer Survivor Sends His Party a Message on Obamacare

Lots of people have been telling Republican Party leaders that simply opposing Obamacare isn’t enough—that they need to develop an alternative. But few can offer such advice with the authority, or the insight, of Clint Murphy. 

One reason is that Murphy, 38, used to work in Republican politics. The other reason is that Murphy is a cancer survivor—and that, because of pre-existing conditions, he has apparently struggled finding health insurance. “When you say you’re against it,” Murphy wrote on his Facebook page, in an open letter to Republicans, “you’re saying that you don’t want people like me to have health insurance.

Murphy, who lives in Georgia, told the full version of his story to Jim Galloway, a columnist of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Here’s how it goes:

Murphy was an invincible 25-year-old working the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia when he was diagnosed. Four rounds of chemo later, all covered by insurance, the cancer was in remission by 2004. But the damage had been done. He was now a man with a medical record.

Political work is an on-again, off-again for many, as it was for Murphy. Some of that work offered insurance -- the McCain presidential campaign had an excellent plan, for instance.

But in his supplemental occupation, as a real estate agent, Murphy hit a roadblock. “That’s when I got into the pre-existing thing,” he said.

The year 2010 was a rough one. Murphy lost his mother to brain cancer. He left politics, weary of its meanness, and went full-time into real estate. After a decade of living cancer-free, he thought the insurance companies might lighten up. Instead, they found something else.

"I have sleep apnea. They treated sleep apnea as a pre-existing condition. I’m going right now with no insurance," said Murphy, now 38.

When Georgia’s health insurance exchange opens in October, Murphy will sign up. "Absolutely," he said.

It’s easy to dwell on the downsides of Obamacare, particularly right now, as federal and state officials work feverishly to prepare the new insurance exchanges for operation. The law is a hodgepodge of compromises, and it doesn’t do nearly everything its architects had once hoped. Meanwhile, political opponents are doing everything in their power to undermine the law, making implementation even more difficult than it would otherwise be. Nary a week goes by without news of the law’s shortcomings and glitches. Some are imagined. Some are real. (Avik Roy today reports on a series of missed implementation deadlines—those are real.) They all make for unpleasant reading.

But thanks to Obamacare, millions of young people have found insurance through their parents and millions of seniors have taken advantage of increasing prescription drug coverage. And that’s just the stuff that’s happened already. Starting next year, many millions of working-age Americans locked out of the insurance market—because they don’t have the money or they have pre-existing conditions—will finally have access to coverage they can afford. That's an awful lot of people.  If Republicans want to repeal the law, that means they want to take away most of it not all of these benefits. (One of the Republicans who backs full repeal without a replacement is Georgia's conservative Senate candidate. Murphy says he supports her, notwithstanding that position.) 

In fairness, some conservative thinkers and writers have thought seriously about what they would introduce in place of those benefits. So have a handful of Republican lawmakers, among them Congressman Tom Price, whose plan Murphy praises as an alternative. These plans wouldn’t accomplish nearly as much as Obamacare would—they would cover far fewer people, or provide much less protection, or some combination of the two. And one reason you don’t see Republican leaders endorsing these plans, or pursuing them seriously, is that they would have to acknowledge the very real failings and trade-offs in the approaches they prefer. 

But that's a story for another day. At least these conservatives acknowledge the problems of our health care system—and attempt to provide some relief to people who can’t get health coverage. The Republican Party leadership and conservative base won't even try that. When somebody like Murphy looks to them for assistance—for some way to avoid the problems of the status quo—they offer absolutely nothing. 

Jonathan Cohn is a senior editor at the New Republic. Follow him on twitter @CitizenCohn