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My friend Ed might be alive to this day if he’d had medical insurance

Americans would get health coverage simply by showing a new government-issued card and would no longer owe out-of-pocket expenses like deductibles, according to legislation Sen. Bernie Sanders released this month. | AP file photo

I heard the groaning as we walked off the elevator at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn. The closer we got to Ed’s room, the more certain I was that the anguished sounds came from him.

Ed lay on the bed, eyes closed, his skin tan and green. He was in the late stages of a prostate cancer that had spread to other organs.

It was August of 2013, and I had just arrived in Evergreen Park for St. Bernadette’s 50th grade school reunion when I learned that my boyhood pal Ed Lepore was in critical condition. My closest friend, Tom Booth, picked me up to visit Ed so we both could say good-bye.

OPINION

The same age as us, Ed fully expected to live another 25 years. He was funny and creative, and had a job designing display ads for a small newspaper. He loved drawing and film and music, and playing nickel-ante poker on Friday nights.

But after being laid off from the newspaper, Ed never fully rebounded. He lived in the house he had inherited from his late parents and bought groceries and Montclair cigarettes with money drawn from unemployment compensation and sporadic part-time gigs.

His most recent job was as a maintenance worker at a nearby hospital. In his last two years, Ed’s lifelong friend Mike Michau and several others helped pay his bills.

For a long time, Ed complained of pain in his hips and groin, but he never saw a doctor because he could not afford health insurance. By the time an ambulance was called, it was too late.

The Affordable Care Act, which would not take effect till January 2014, was intended to prevent tragedies like Ed’s, a way for Americans to acquire insurance and safeguard their health. Though the ACA enabled 18 million more people to purchase insurance, many now fear they’ll lose it if the ACA is repealed, as Republicans in Congress and President Donald Trump have threatened to do.

To resolve this national headache once and for all, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has proposed a bill to insure all Americans by extending Medicare, which seniors now receive, to cover everyone.

Sanders is convinced it will be cheaper, more effective and more humane than our current system.

Presently, citizens pay out trillions of dollars to health insurance companies, pharmacies, doctors and hospitals for deductibles and co-payments. The paperwork alone adds billions of dollars to national medical costs. Yet, despite all we pay, when someone has a really serious injury or illness in this country, friends and relatives often must mount a fundraiser to get them through it.

Critics say Sanders’ plan is “delusional” because it is too expensive and amounts to socialism.

But the same critics mischaracterize the cost of Sanders’ plan, implying there is no money to fund it. They are disingenuous in omitting the fact that it would be paid for with the massive sums now spent for private health care insurance, which would be re-directed, via income taxes, to finance universal care.

Here, in a nutshell, is how we can replace our patchwork private health care network with Medicare for all:

Currently, the United States spends $2.8 trillion on private health care.

Switching to the single-payer universal system that Sanders advocates would cost $2.3 trillion, according to a study by economist Gerald Friedman of the University of Massachusetts.

Sanders’ plan would thus save $500 billion a year in health care costs. And it’s easy to see why, since it would bypass countless middlemen, including health insurance corporation tycoons like Michael Neirdoff, the CEO of Centene. In 2016, Neirdoff pocketed a salary and bonuses worth more than $22 million.

Nor would Sanders’ plan resemble socialism even remotely, since Medicare would make payments to doctors, hospitals, clinics, medical suppliers and pharmacies that already exist in the private sector.

Ed died several weeks after our visit. Before Tom and I said good-bye, I asked Ed if he had a message for any of his former classmates at the reunion.

Ed bellowed out an expletive and a harsh suggestion that they do something that was anatomically impossible.

Pain and anger, understandably, incited his outburst.

The same pain and anger which, hopefully, will incite Congress to do what’s right and moral, passing Sanders’ bill for universal health care.

David McGrath, emeritus professor of English at College of DuPage, is author of THE TERRITORY.

Email him at mcgrathd@dupage.edu

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.