Dean Angstadt required a lot of convincing to sign up for Obamacare. The Pennsylvania logger had heard a lot of bad things about the president’s signature domestic initiative. Over a period of months, however, a friend of Angstadt’s — Bob Leinhauser, who’d worked for 27 years at Montgomery County’s fire and rescue department — prevailed upon him to sign up, given the stakes and all.
“I was going to die,” he told this blog back in April 2014. “I was preparing myself.” He desperately needed heart-valve replacement surgery, a procedure he’d been putting off because of his finances. Thanks to Leinhauser’s prodding, he paid a minimal amount for a policy that covered a surgery he never could have paid for.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Erik Wemple Blog and various other outlets — the story of this Boyertown, Pa., resident’s recovery was all over the news. Host Chris Hayes at MSNBC did a thing on it. “You wouldn’t have caught me dead watching MSNBC,” Angstadt told this blog at the time. It was a happy occasion: “Obamacare saved his life,” Jill Savory, Angstadt’s widow, tells the Erik Wemple Blog.
Obamacare, however, couldn’t save Angstadt’s livelihood. According to Savory, Angstadt — 57 at the time of his valve-replacement surgery — struggled to push around the logs. “He was so mad,” recalls Savory. “Uh, god, it was just, he loved it — he loved talking to people and harvesting their trees and being in the woods.” Profession and identity were closely aligned: “He was a very stubborn man. He always worked hard for a living, nothing was ever given to him and he frowned upon people on welfare and food stamps,” she says. “He worked his ass off as a logger and made something of himself.”
Logging is tough without blood. Even after his heart surgery, Angstadt had a cardiac “ejection fraction” hovering in the 25 percent range, according to Savory. That’s a measure of how effectively the heart’s left ventricle pumps blood with each beat: A normal rate is between 55 and 65 percent. Angstadt’s level was in the neighborhood of “moderate-to-severe impairment.”
With a cratering heart came cratering income. In the months before his heart-valve surgery, Angstadt saw his productivity decline and had trouble paying his bills, prompting a July 2014 bankruptcy filing. Though he managed some small jobs after the procedure, he never fully regained his financial footing. With the help of Leinhauser, he applied for and received disability payments, and he eventually got bounced from Obamacare onto a federal government insurance program — Medicare, according to Leinhauser. “He was pissed about it,” says Savory. “He did not want to go off the Obamacare.” And as Savory recalls, he swore to disability administrators that he wouldn’t be availing himself for long: “He argued with the disability people, saying, ‘I want to come off disability … I’m trying to get out there, I’m making a little bit and I think I can come off,’ ” says Savory.
The man’s health didn’t cooperate with his ambitions. Around November 2015, says Savory, Angstadt took to bed. “All he did was sleep and sleep till I took him to the emergency room, family care,” says Savory. Lung cancer was the perpetrator; Angstadt had quit smoking eight years earlier.
A “very aggressive” series of treatments followed, says Savory. The cancer had shrunk in Angstadt’s lungs but spread to other parts of his body. It was a painful end; he died on Aug. 9, 2016, at Lehigh Valley Hospital at the age of 59.
Savory estimates that treatment costs for Angstadt over his last nine months totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars. “We didn’t have to pay anything. We paid nothing,” recalls Savory, who works as secretary of the St. Joseph’s Hill Lutheran Church in Boyertown, Pa., and is working on Safe Place, a nonprofit for young adults struggling to recover from drug addiction. “Knowing that the insurance was going to take care of everything alleviated so much stress from the situation because we knew that he was going to die,” says Savory.
Had he survived another three months, says Savory, Angstadt would likely have voted for Donald Trump, though he was more open to Democratic candidates because of Obamacare. “He liked Trump because Trump is angry about how things are run and the government and the fact that Hillary [Clinton] is bought and paid for and every American knows that,” says Savory. On the campaign trail, Trump called Obamacare a “disaster” and vowed to work for its repeal.
Fox News also retained the loyalty of Angstadt, despite the channel’s almost ’round-the-clock antagonism toward the health-care initiative that had saved his life, not to mention his household finances. Roger Ailes, who guided the cable network until his ouster over the summer, once told a biographer that he would repeal the law if he’d been elected president. His anchors got the message, propagating segment after segment after segment attacking Obamacare.
According to Savory, Angstadt particularly enjoyed the late-night rerun of Bill O’Reilly’s “The O’Reilly Factor.” “At 11 at night, he’d sit in his chair in the bedroom and there was no speaking to each other while Bill O’Reilly was on,” says Savory. “There was no speaking during Penn State games and no speaking during Bill O’Reilly.” Perhaps Angstadt spoke back at O’Reilly for dissing Obamacare from time to time on his program. Just months after Angstadt’s heart surgery, for example, the Fox News host ripped the program this way: “Obamacare is much more than providing medical assets to the poor,” he said. “It’s about capitalism versus socialism.”
Last January, O’Reilly criticized the federal government for “strangl[ing] the free marketplace with high taxes, complicated regulations and mandated Obamacare rules.” More: “Americans to pay more for health insurance so the poor can have freer subsidized health care with no strings attached. That’s good for the have-nots. But millions of working Americans are not included in the benefits of Obamacare. They are hurt by higher premiums and lack of medical choices,” O’Reilly said in a recent broadcast, perhaps not realizing that one of his former viewers was, in fact, a “working American” who just couldn’t afford the cost of a heart-valve replacement.
Just after Trump’s victory, O’Reilly said, “President-elect Trump has vowed to replace Obamacare and that can’t come fast enough.”
Such a course of action wouldn’t please the 50-year-old Savory, who depends on Obamacare because her job doesn’t include medical insurance in its benefits package. The insurance plan that she bought on the Obamacare exchange covered a recent hysterectomy. She intended to vote for Trump earlier this month but couldn’t make it to her polling place — and asks only that the president-elect retain Obamacare. “Please! I am screwed if Obamacare is disrupted,” she tells the Erik Wemple Blog.
Leinhauser, known to Angstadt’s family as “Fireman Bob,” says he confronted the logger about his politics and his viewing choices. “My tongue hits like a hedge trimmer and I didn’t hold it with him. I said, ‘How can you in good conscience not see this? How can you watch these people?’” says Leinhauser, who is now a core volunteer with Remote Area Medical.
The answer is clear to anyone who has watched “The O’Reilly Factor.” It speaks directly to a guy with Angstadt’s frontier values — and demonstrates how hard it is for competitors to peel away viewers from Fox News. In a program last spring, O’Reilly declared, “I never took anything from anybody in my life except my grandmother who was like me for some reason and gave me 10 or 20 once in a while,” and denounced people who demand “free stuff.” “All right? I don’t have any debt. I never had any debt. It’s just my philosophy because of my parents. My parents were Depression parents and they didn’t run up debt and they paid for everything as they went along. And they said if I wanted certain things I have to work for them. I think that philosophy has made me successful.”
Same with Angstadt, who chafed at a life dependent on government programs. “‘This isn’t a good life,’” Leinhauser recalls a diminished Angstadt telling him. “‘Do you know how much I want to be out in the woods right now?’”