Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) suffered a major stroke nearly a year ago, which kept the senator away from Capitol Hill during a difficult rehabilitation process. Fortunately, Kirk worked hard, received excellent care, and today, he'll climb the Capitol steps with his colleagues to mark the beginning of the 113th Congress. The senator has shown an enormous amount of heart and courage, and he's to be congratulated for how far he's come over the last year.
I'm sure he'll receive a warm welcome from the chamber today, and there's no doubt he'll have earned it.
That said, as Kirk reenters public life, he's beginning to give interviews again, and there's something he told the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday that stood out for me.
[Kirk] has a new perspective on the Illinois Medicaid program. "I will look much more carefully at the Illinois Medicaid program to see how my fellow citizens are being cared for who have no income and if they suffer from a stroke," Kirk said.
He said in general a person on Medicaid would be allowed 11 rehab visits in Illinois. "Had I been limited to that I would have had no chance to recover like I did. So unlike before suffering the stroke, I'm much more focused on Medicaid and what my fellow citizens face."
Obviously, it's hard to find silver linings to a health crisis as serious as Kirk's, but if he's prepared to look anew at Medicaid policy, now with a more sympathetic eye, I'm glad. As Harold Pollack explained, "The simple truth in these comments commands respect. Kirk required aggressive rehabilitation services at one of America's finest facilities for patients recovering from stroke. Such a profound physical ordeal -- and one's accompanying sense of profound privilege in securing more help than so many other people routinely receive -- this changes a person."
But there's a larger context to keep in mind.
Given his party's desire to cut Medicaid, the senator is likely to bring a critical, first-hand perspective that should help influence the debate. Kirk will be able to offer insights his colleagues need to be aware of.
I do wish, however, that we might see similarly changed perspectives without the need for direct personal relevance. Many policymakers are skeptical about federal disaster relief until it's their community that sees devastation. They have no interest in gay rights until they learn someone close to them is gay. And they're unsure of the value of Medicaid until they see its worth up close.
Perhaps the key to social progress is more life experiences?