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S.C. Man Will Get Sight-Saving Surgery As Liberal Donors Chip In

The Fort Mill, S.C., Republican who went public Tuesday with his plea for help paying for sight-saving surgery had raised almost $12,000 by Wednesday evening – most of it from self-described liberals and Affordable Care Act supporters saying they hope he’s learned a lesson.

That’s enough to ensure he can get the treatment he needs, said Dr. Andrew Antoszyk, an eye surgeon with Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Associates. After reading Luis Lang’s story in the Observer on Wednesday, Antoszyk said he’d work with Lang and with Novant Health to give him the care at reduced cost.

Lang, a self-employed handyman, declined to get health insurance until he needed expensive surgery for diabetes-related eye problems. His story went viral, spurring blogs and comments, national media commentary, thousands of social media shares and vigorous discussions across the country.

Luis Lang

Luis Lang, an uninsured resident of Fort Mill, S.C., needs an expensive operation to save his sight. (Ann Doss Helms, Charlotte Observer)

His page has been shared on social media more than 1,700 times since Tuesday morning, with more than 600 people making small donations, often with political commentary.

“No one should be without medical (care) even if they have not made their own best choices in life,” wrote Steve Kadel, who gave $10. “The party of personal responsibility (has) left you hanging on your own consequences. Progressives like me think that’s just cruel. Be well.”

Lang told me he chose to pay his own medical bills while he and his wife were relatively healthy. He tried to sign up for subsidized ACA coverage only after a health crisis in February. He couldn’t get it and blamed the president and congressional Democrats for his plight.

Thousands of commenters told him to suck it up and take care of himself, noting that he lives in a home valued at more than $300,000, that his wife doesn’t work and that his smoking and lack of attention to his diabetes contributed to his problems.

Others said he should blame the South Carolina Republicans who, like GOP leaders in 20 other states, including North Carolina, have declined the federal money that was supposed to extend Medicaid to impoverished adults. Lang says he has been unable to work because of vision problems. People who fall below the poverty level – $15,730 a year for a couple – can’t get subsidies to buy private insurance, and most don’t qualify for Medicaid in states that refused the federal expansion money.

Lang said Wednesday morning that the donations will let him pay for a surgeon’s consultation and start the process of getting treatment for bleeding in his eyes and a partially detached retina. Dr. Mark Edwards, the Lancaster, S.C., ophthalmologist who examined Lang, said Lang will go blind without surgery and follow-up treatment.

Lang said he was told the total cost could be $15,000 to $30,000, though Edwards said it’s hard to make a firm estimate without involving a surgeon. Antoszyk agreed that he needs to do an assessment to be sure of the cost. But earlier Wednesday, with the fundraising total at $8,500, Antoszyk said, “I think we should be able to do that.”

I had warned Lang on Monday that his story was likely to spur criticism of him and his decisions, but neither one of us was prepared for the scope and intensity of reactions. While many commenters were gracious, others were abusive. Lang’s wife, Mary, says she got a threatening phone call at their home Tuesday.

“It turned into a political thing,” Lang said. “That wasn’t my intention when I reached out. This is ridiculous.”

So has he learned anything from this experience?

“I did,” he said.

Although there has been extensive coverage of the Affordable Care Act since it was passed in 2010, Lang, who gets his news from local TV and the Internet, didn’t know about the Medicaid gap or that income fluctuations can make it difficult to calculate subsidies. He believes his case has helped people understand that.

“I hold the whole government responsible for this, state and federal,” he said. Greed from medical providers and the government also add to the flaws in the system, Lang said.

Does he hold himself responsible? There was a short pause.

“I do hold myself partly responsible because of the view that I had. I should have taken better care of my sugar,” he said. “Yeah, I should have had insurance.”

He noted that some donors have asked what he thinks of the fact that liberals, rather than conservatives, are helping him.

“I look at a person as a person,” he said. “People are acting from the heart, just like I have done in the past.”

Mostly, he says, he’s overwhelmed by the attention his story has gotten.

“The Charlotte Observer should give me a free subscription now,” he quipped.

This blog post comes from The Charlotte Observer, produced in partnership with KHN.

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