Newswire (Published: Thursday, September 27, 2018, Received: Thursday, September 27, 2018, 3:51:57 PM CDT)

Word Count: 825

Either way it goes on November 6, the state of Illinois will have its first black attorney general. For a people who have historically been systematically marginalized in every way, that in and of itself is a reason to celebrate.

However, for persons with preexisting health issues whose ability to have health insurance is threatened by Trump administration attacks on the Affordable Care Act – as well as by 20 state attorneys general (Josh Hawley of Missouri included) in a lawsuit underway in Texas – Illinois state Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) is a stalwart advocate. Raoul said his late father, Dr. Janin Raoul, a family physician in Chicago for more than 30 years, taught him that health care is a right, not a privilege.

"He really believes in health care as a human right, by way of the fact he would always bring medical supplies and medicine back to Haiti," Raoul said. "As a practicing physician on the South Side of Chicago, he would never reject a patient because of their inability to pay their full bill. He would often come home with a block of cheese or a fruitcake, because folks would bring those things as gestures to try to give him something for the service he provided."

Raoul serves in the 13th District, the same district Barack Obama represented in the Illinois Senate. The Affordable Care Act is an Obama legacy. Raoul understands pre-existing conditions because he lives it as a survivor of prostate cancer, a disease that affected many special men in his life, including his father.

"I lost him to prostate cancer, the same disease that took his father and his mother's father," Raoul told The American. "And it struck uncles of both sides of the family, so as I've gone to my personal physician through the years, I knew it was incumbent upon me to make sure that when I was asked that question about family history, that I was able to answer 'prostate cancer' and go through my screenings."

According to National Cancer Institute data, there were 164,690 new cases of prostate cancer in 2018; that is 112.6 per 100,000 men per year, based on data from 2011 to 2015. It estimates 29,430 people will succumb to this disease. While prostate cancer is more common in older than younger men, it is more likely to occur in men with a family history of prostate cancer and in men of African-American descent. New cases and death rates are higher among African-American men, which makes early testing crucial (and not just in September, which is Prostate Cancer Awareness month).

Raoul and his doctors, aware of his strong family history, were watching and screening, which saved his life. Health insurance gave him choices.

"My access to health care allowed me to make that decision and shop for the best surgeon I could find, and the surgery was successful, so in all likelihood I am cured of that cancer," Raoul said.

"When people are debating about this notion of access to health care, and saying that some people should have it and some shouldn't, and some people's preexisting conditions should not be covered – knowing what it means from a very personal standpoint, that it's lifesaving – is more than just a political talking point. It is very personal to me."

He said the thought of repealing the Affordable Care Act is unconscionable and makes Democratic attorneys general at the state level crucial.

"It is Democratic attorney generals that have stepped up to defend the Affordable Care Act where the federal government has not," Raoul said. "That's why it is so critical who we elect to these attorney general positions, not only in my state, but throughout the country, because some of these actions that are being taken by attorney generals are to protect people in life and death situations."

As Raoul shares his personal story about prostate cancer, he meets many others who have been affected by the disease.

"There are several people who approach me afterwards who would say they were either currently dealing with prostate cancer, or some other cancer, or had a relative who they lost to it," Raoul said. "This disease hits people, no matter what region you are from, and this is something that doesn't spare people based on political party, what state they are from or what part of the state they are from. Cancer hits all families, and access to health care is essential to all families."

Raoul said another crucial action is for men to open up about health care.

"It's critically important for African-American men in particular to talk about health care openly because culturally, historically, we don't," Raoul said. "We don't screen, and we don't go to the doctor unless something is wrong with us. And we need to change that practice, because if we do – we save a lot of lives."


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