Congressman announces cancer diagnosis months after characterizing illness as a personal failing

When reality intervenes on rhetoric.

Rep. Mo Brooks in March. (CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)
Rep. Mo Brooks in March. (CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

During a speech on the House floor on Wednesday, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) announced that he has prostate cancer.

“Don’t ever, ever, take your health or family for granted. During the holidays, enjoy your family, because no one, no one, is promised tomorrow,” Brooks said, adding that he learned he has cancer following a doctor’s scan in October.

Brooks’ announcement demonstrates the value of having health insurance, and the reality that everyone gets sick at one time or another. It also highlights the disconnect between his rhetoric about health care and people’s lived experience.

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While Republicans were trying to repeal Obamacare in May, Brooks — who introduced a one-sentence Obamacare repeal bill in March — went on CNN and defended Republicans’ plan to allow insurance companies to discriminate against people who have preexisting conditions, which he characterized as personal failings.

“My understanding is that (the new proposal) will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool,” Brooks said in comments that generated swift backlash. “That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people — who’ve done things the right way — that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

But people “who lead good lives” get cancer too, and discovering and treating it can be exorbitantly expensive. Nonetheless, Republicans like Brooks who support legislation that would result in tens of millions of people losing coverage routinely characterize insurance as a luxury item that some people simply make the choice not to have, instead of a basic need.