Bob Franken

Kenneth Bacon’s Life and Death Struggle with the Bureaucracy


With Obama administration trial-ballooners declaring that the president might be willing to drop the public option from health care reform, an opinion piece that appeared less than a month ago should be required reading. It was written by Kenneth Bacon.

Bacon had long experience in government and public policy. A longtime Wall Street Journal reporter, he moved to the dark side and became a Pentagon spokesman during the Clinton administration. After that he became the president of Refugees International. But his op-ed piece in the Washington Post was about his private life and his suffering, and that’s where he shared an essential voice of experience. It was titled “A Cancer Patient’s Perspective.” From that perspective, he recommended five goals for any reform:

Emphasize prevention, early detection and early intervention.

Maximize online efficiencies to reduce paperwork and streamline data.

Protect the patient-doctor relationship.

Address the insurance/quality-of-care gap.

Increase funding for medical research.

Bacon was writing as he struggled with advanced melanoma. Early on, when it was easily treatable, he said, his dermatologist misdiagnosed it.

From that point, he, his family and his doctor struggled with an insurance company — his so-called provider — “to arrange payment for my daily brain radiation [the cancer had metastasized], which had been rejected as ‘not medically necessary’ even though the cancer in my brain is growing rapidly.”

How sadly familiar this issue is to so many Americans. President Obama has told a similar story many times. As recently as last week’s town-hall meeting in New Hampshire, he said, “I will never forget my own mother as she fought cancer in her final months, having to worry about whether her insurance would refuse to pay for her treatment.”

Those who argue against an increased role for government repeat endlessly, “Do you want a bureaucrat to get between you and your doctor?” The easy retort is that the corporate bureaucrats already do.

Bacon gave added meaning to that as he described the heroic time-consuming efforts of his physician: “My oncologist has spent hours filling out forms and arguing with the insurance company to arrange coverage for my chemotherapy.”

As we read Bacon’s essay and it’s emphasis on the “insurance/quality-of-care gap,” it forces us all to further question whether these companies can be counted on to provide reasonable and truly comprehensive coverage, or whether their medical decisions will be dictated by the upcoming quarterly report.

Is some sort of competition from a government entity necessary to scare them into paying for adequate medical services? There is little doubt the Obama administration sent its messengers out to all but declare a willingness to abandon the public option in the name of negotiating expedience. Should the president reconsider making such a compromise so soon? Should he allow right-wing ideologues and their followers to batter him into giving up something so important?

As for Kenneth Bacon, there was a new Washington Post article about him on Sunday. His obituary.

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