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Let Us All Now Praise Sen. Sherrod Brown

Let Us All Now Praise Sen. Sherrod Brown

December 8, 2007

We are so used to media accounts of political leaders saying one thing and doing another, it comes as a shock to see someone, out of the spotlight, walking the walk. So let's take a moment to recognize US Senator Sherrod Brown, highlighted in yesterday's Washington Post, who, since being elected to the US House in 1992, has refused government-sponsored health insurance until all Americans can get it:

"Truth be told, I thought that we would pass some real universal health care in the next two years," Brown said. "I didn't think it was going to be a 15-year-long or two-decade-long commitment."

For much of that time, Brown, who served 14 years in the House before winning a Senate seat last year, did what millions of others without employer-sponsored coverage do: He bought a policy on the individual market. Those policies tend to be less comprehensive and more expensive than plans whose premiums are funded mostly by employers.

Brown declined to disclose how much his annual premiums were but said the coverage did not really kick in until after a $5,000 annual deductible. As a result, for many years the lawmaker paid out of his own pocket for health care. Even when he visited the House doctor for flu shots or physicals -- a perk not enjoyed by constituents -- he covered the cost with his own cash.

Brown did draw on the insurance policy at least once, in January 2000. One Sunday morning while driving to church with a daughter, the congressman hit a patch of ice and slammed into a tree stump. Brown broke his back, pelvis and several ribs, landing him in the hospital for two weeks and keeping him home in a rented hospital bed for a while after that.

After he paid the $5,000 deductible, the insurance picked up 80 percent of the rest, Brown said, but the painful ordeal still cost him $12,000 to $13,000. His daughter, covered by his policy, was uninjured, but Brown had to pay out of pocket for her emergency-room examination. Asked if the accident made him regret the pledge, Brown said, "No, I had made the commitment, and I just still lived with it."

Brown has better coverage now. In 2004, he married Connie Schultz, a columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and joined her insurance plan. When Schultz took a temporary leave while Brown ran for Senate, the couple had to pay the full premium for the plan.