Commentary: It isn’t about ‘deserve’

By John Krull

INDIANAPOLIS – A few years ago, I received an unwelcome surprise.
A medical check-up and blood test revealed that I had type 2 diabetes. The diagnosis meant I was at much, much greater risk for several other nasty health threats and ailments – heart attack, blindness, etc. – unless I managed to get it under control.

John Krull, publisher,

I wasn’t alone in this, of course. More than 25 million other Americans have diabetes – most of them type 2 – and another 80 million are prediabetic, which means their blood sugar levels are high enough to pose risks to their health.
Like many of my fellow diabetics and prediabetics, I’ve been following the heath care debate in Congress attentively. I’ve always been fortunate enough to have health insurance, but I can imagine what things would be like for me if I didn’t.
For one thing, if I hadn’t had insurance, I probably wouldn’t have had the routine check that spotted the diabetes in the first place. If I hadn’t had that check, I might not be here. At the very least, I’d be in a lot worse shape than I am now.
That’s why I was intrigued when one of the conservative talking points in the ongoing debate over health care involved making a distinction between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes, the argument goes, should be covered because it’s something “people are born with.” Type 2, on the other hand, is “something you did to yourself.”
Maybe not.
When I was diagnosed, I was middle-aged. I’d put on some weight, but not nearly as much as a lot of other people. My diet wasn’t the greatest, but it wasn’t atrocious. And I still could swim a couple miles or run five miles any time I chose.
That didn’t matter.
I still was diabetic.
When I was diagnosed, to resort to a cliché, I changed my lifestyle. I eliminated processed sugar from my diet and greatly curtailed the number of carbohydrates I consumed. I stepped up my exercise routine and made it a point never to go more than a couple of days without a workout. I shed weight, dropping more than 30 pounds.
All that effort brought my blood sugar numbers down, but not enough.
I still was diabetic.
Perhaps some of this I did do to myself. I did have a sugar habit when I was younger and I rarely found a potato chip I didn’t like.
But other members of my family also are diabetic, including ones who had better diets than mine. Perhaps that’s why my doctor had to console me after I’d spent months on a spartan diet, been working out 15 hours per week and weighed again what I did when I was a 30-year-old competitive triathlete – only to see my numbers still in the diabetic range.
“You may be battling genetics,” she said. “If so, that’s not a fight you can win.”
So, I made my peace with it.
I accepted the fact that diabetes and the needs to discipline my lifestyle and take appropriate medication are going to be part of my life until I die.
Again, I’m fortunate.
Because I’ve had some success in my professional life, I’ve had access to quality health care. For that reason, I could spot and meet a challenge to my health. Because I could, I’ve been able to watch my children grow up.
But, I’d like to think that, even if I hadn’t caught a few breaks along the way, people still would give a damn whether I lived or died.
Maybe that’s why I find the notion that some people “deserve” health care and others don’t so offensive.
That’s why most religions don’t base the admonition we should help others on merit, because precious few of us “deserve” kindness or help. There are times we just need kindness, need help.
There are conservative ways to improve health-care coverage. There also are progressive ways.
I care less about which path we choose to get to our destination than I do that we agree on that destination – that we agree that all our citizens should have access to quality health care.
That we agree to give a damn whether those around us live or die.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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