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UPDATE: The Luis Lang Saga, Part VI: The Interview

Over the past 3 weeks, I've written not one, not two, but 5 different lengthy screeds about Luis Lang of Fort Mill, South Carolina.

My first three posts pretty much tore him and his wife to pieces.

The fourth post, written in response to an interview he did with my colleague Harold Pollack over at healthinsurance.org, was a bit more forgiving, but still brought out my nasty snark.

Then, a few days later, Lang dropped the bombshell: He and his wife were renouncing the Republican Party and openly calling for Single Payer healthcare.

Needless to say, I was beyond stunned. While thrilled to hear this news, this also obviously left me in a rather awkward position: Do I apologize to the guy for my earlier attacks, or were they justified? In addition, in the back of my head there was obviously the possibility that his seemingly miraculous 180˚ ideological stance was simply some sort of con to get progressives/lefties to donate even more money to his campaign.

So, I hedged my bets: I posted him a qualified apology:

Mr. Lang:

I donated a few bucks to you early on...but also wrote several blog entries which, quite frankly, tore you to shreds over what certainly seemed, by all evidence presented from the articles and even the follow-up interviews, to be incredible hypocrisy. Needless to say, I'm thrilled beyond words at your announcement today. IF the various articles/interviews truly did distort your actual views, than I apologize to that extent.

...and planned on leaving it until that.

Since then, there have been five major developments.

First, Mr. Lang's GoFundMe account to help cover his medical expenses has now raised over $26,000 of his $30,000 goal. And yes, that's the first time that I've actually linked directly to the page.

Second, Mr. Lang has actively offered to become Obamacare's literal "poster child" and indeed has been all over the place, being interviewed for various publications and radio shows to tell his tale.

Third, just this morning, Mr. Lang posted the following open letter of apology to President Obama:

Fourth, just a few hours ago, Mr. Lang announced that he and his wife are launching The Luis Lang Foundation, which he intends to be a non-profit organization dedicated to helping other Americans caught in similar circumstances to himself (ie, serious medical issues but caught in the Medicaid Gap or otherwise falling through the healthcare coverage cracks). The website is just a splashpage for the moment.

And finally...Mr. Lang recently contacted me wanting to talk. So...we did.

I spent a solid hour on the phone with Mr. Lang, discussing everything from healthcare and the Affordable Care Act to immigration and mandatory drug testing.

He agreed to let me record the conversation, so I didn't take any notes while we spoke, but the first 20 minutes or so got screwed up, so I'll have to rely on my memory of our conversation for that part.

With that in mind, here's the main points which came out of our discussion:

  • Regarding the original Charlotte Observer article:

He contacted the paper originally in order both to help bring attention to his own plight (his GoFundMe page had only raised a few hundred dollars as of that point) as well as to bring notice to others caught in his situation. He appreciates the reporter writing the story but feels that either she or her editors slanted his statements and views heavily in order to make him look like a "right wing ogre" when in fact he and his wife have always been pretty non-political.

  • Regarding his being a "life-long Republican"

Lang says that yes, he did register as a Republican...over 30 years ago, when he was 18, living in Florida and first registering to vote. Florida requires voters to declare a party preference for primary voting purposes. He was 18, it was 1984, Ronald Reagan was at the height of his popularity and the GOP was very different than it is today...so yes, he regisered as a Republican. Since then, however, he says that he's never been a strict party-line voter.

  • Regarding he and his wife "blaming President Obama and Congressional Democrats"

The original story in the Charlotte Observer, and some of the subsequent stories about the Langs made it sound very much as though Lang and his wife were die-hard conservatives who hated President Obama and the Democrats for passing the ACA. In particular, his wife was quoted as saying "“[Luis] should be at the front of the line because he doesn’t work and because he has medical issues...we call it the Not Fair Health Care Act.”

According to Mr. Lang, the last part of that quote was accurate...but she never said anything like the first part. In fact, he says the reason that they think the ACA isn't "fair" is because it doesn't go far enough to cover everybody (as noted in his letter above).

  • Regarding the eye surgeon who was later quoted as claiming that the $12,000 Mr. Lang had raised at the time should be enough to cover his expenses:

A follow-up story in the Charlotte Observer included this passage:

That’s enough to ensure he can get the treatment he needs, said Dr. Andrew Antoszyk, an eye surgeon with Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Associates. After reading Luis Lang’s story in the Observer on Wednesday, Antoszyk said he’d work with Lang and with Novant Health to give him the care at reduced cost.

According to Mr. Lang, he did indeed visit Dr. Antoszyk, but it turns out that, as shocking as it sounds, doctors actually need to examine patients in person in order to properly evaluate what sort of treatment they need and how much that might cost. After having some tests done, Dr. Antoszyk apparently realized that it was gonna cost a lot more than $12,000 to get the job done.

  • Regarding his GoFundMe account and people being suspicious of his motives/sincerity:

Lang realizes that now that he's close to his original $30K goal, people are likely to be highly suspicious if he were to increase the target amount. He's going to get proper, official documentation of his ailments and treatment expenses as proof before trying to up the goal.

  • Regarding the letter to President Obama (posted above):

Lang says that he felt a need to apologize to President Obama "for the media" distorting his statements (the letter itself is above; he pretty much reiterated the key points in it, both in terms of the apology and his "keeping a promise" to his GoFundMe donors to become a poster boy for the ACA in a positive fashion).

  • At one point I helped clear up his confusion regarding the difference between the "Medicaid Gap" (which he and his wife are currently a victim of) and the "Donut Hole" (which refers to a screw-up in the Medicare Part D legislation under President Bush, and which was actually fixed by the ACA).

We discussed this a bit as one of the additional sources of confusion which can occur even when someone is trying to have an honest discussion of the ACA; if I understand correctly, Mr. Lang didn't realize at the time that it was the South Carolina GOP which created the Medicaid Gap in his state, not the Affordable Care Act itself...and the confusion was compounded because he was using a term which refers to an entirely different healthcare issue to describe it (an issue which was, ironically, solved by the ACA).

  • We also discussed the problem of having a variable income, trying to estimate what your income will be in the coming year and then risking having to pay a huge chunk back the following spring.

I noted that I'm in the same situation on that front (freelancer, self-employed); the solution in that situation is to simply make the best guestimate you can, and then keeping the amount of the credits you receive in mind so that if you do end up having to pay some/all of it back, it won't be a sucker punch; plus, you can log into your account and update your info later in the year.

  • He definitely hasn't lost his sense of humor, and has gone from being "the most hated Republican in the country to the most hated by Republicans"
  • He describes himself as a "Loudmouth, Hispanic Jew".
  • He doesn't feel that anyone owes him an apology because "they didn't know". I disagreed, at least for myself, because given my own "15 minutes of media frenzy fame" last year, when I was being interviewed all over the place for a time, I should have known better: Most of the folks who interviewed me got my quotes right, but there were a few things which were taken out of context or distorted.
  • He noted that he never said anything negative about the hundreds of nasty comments left by people whether they donated money or not.

Finally:

  • We also discussed his new "Luis Lang Foundation" project. It's basically his way of "paying it forward", but he's still in the early stages--they have to talk to lawyers/etc. to get set up as a 501(c)(3) (or 501(c)(4)...not sure which), to help others in similar situations. It will take several months to get up and running, but the idea would be to act as a funding and advocacy resource for people in the Medicaid gap to hook them up with doctors willing to work on a sliding scale and pay the bill if possible. He also wanted to discuss the two requirements that he and his wife plan on having for the foundation:
    • First, it would only be for American citizens (or at least legal residents; I wasn't quite clear on that)
    • Second, it would require that those they help be drug tested.

We discussed both of these issues a bit, but it was getting a bit off-topic and it was coming up on an hour, so I tried to wrap it up at this point.

In the end, Mr. Lang's "miraculous" turnabout doesn't appear to be miraculous (or suspicious) at all...because it appears that he wasn't even remotely a stereotypical "right-wing conservative" type in the first place.

So. After all of that, and including the "Attorney Chad" incident, it appears that I've made two serious errors in personality judgment in as many weeks.

Conclusion: Data and numbers may be my area of expertise...but judging individual people doesn't appear to be, so I think I should think that through a bit better in the future before shooting my mouth (or keyboard) off.

In any event, here's the actual interview. It starts about 20 minutes into the phone call and runs about 40 minutes, for anyone interested in hearing the whole thing:

UPDATE: The Charlotte Observer has posted their own updated Q&A-style entry about Mr. Lang. Some of it lines up with what he told me yesterday, some of it doesn't and still makes his story/actions seem somewhat unflattering. I'm going to leave it at that for now.