Peter St. Onge

What Luis Lang might never see

Luis Lang, who declined to buy health insurance, is facing expensive eye surgery. Who’s fault is it?
Luis Lang, who declined to buy health insurance, is facing expensive eye surgery. Who’s fault is it? CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

Luis Lang hit the jackpot this week.

He found some people who have better vision than he does.

The Observer’s Ann Doss Helms told you about Lang on Wednesday. He’s a 49-year-old self-employed handyman who has never bought health insurance, choosing instead to pay the few bills he had out-of-pocket.

It’s a thriftiness that’s helped Lang and his wife live in a nice 3,300-square-foot home in Fort Mill.

Earlier this year, however, he had a series of mini-strokes. Doctors told him he needed expensive surgery to save his eyesight. He tried to enroll in Obamacare but had missed the deadline.

Lang, who is a Republican, blamed this all on the president and Congress for passing the Affordable Care Act, which goes to show that while his eyes are troubled, other parts of his anatomy seem plenty big and healthy.

As Helms kindly noted in her report – and commenters noted not-so-kindly after it – there’s no insurance system that lets people skip payments when they’re healthy and cash in when they’re sick. Lang, by opting out of Obamacare, decided not to participate in a system that protects others. And now he was the one who needed help.

Turns out, he’s getting it. Helms’ story went viral, and readers already have stepped up with more than $17,000 in contributions as of Thursday.

Many of the good-hearted are self-described liberals who support Obamacare and hope that Lang learns a lesson.

The irony is that if Lang had learned his lesson, the Observer might not have pursued the story. Lang was compelling not simply because he had rolled the dice on insurance and lost – there are sadly many examples of that – but because he blamed Obamacare and not himself.

So his lack of repentance resulted in the help he’s now getting.

Still reaching for your wallet?

But in that help we see a better side of ourselves – the side that understands that just because people mess up doesn’t mean they should be left on their own.

That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when those we help don’t realize their mistakes, or don’t care.

In a way, it’s at the core of the arguments we have over government assistance.

When conservatives rail against welfare or Medicaid expansion (which Lang’s state declined, by the way) they often point to those who take advantage of the system or don’t care to help themselves.

And they’re right, to a degree. There are some people, although not many, who abuse the system. There are also a relative handful who’d be happy getting their government direct-deposits forever.

We can and should do our best to minimize those. But the reality of giving, whether it’s public or private, is that if you want to help the needy, you’re going to end up helping some others.

As the givers among us have long understood, it’s not about the people who don’t deserve our help. It’s about the people who do.

Some are even willing to help those like Luis Lang, who probably will never understand that Obamacare is not just an individual health care decision, but a commitment to a system that helps many.

That’s harder to see when you’re only looking out for yourself.

Peter: pstonge@charlotteobserver.com

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