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Fighting for the Affordable Care Act through stage IV cancer

Michael Robertson put the bag of chemicals in an inside pocket of his sport coat, the pump in the other. He snaked the tubes between the buttons of his shirt to the port in his chest. He adjusted his tie to cover them.

Then he sat down in a cavernous room in the White House complex and pulled his chair close to the table, hiding the bulges.

Robertson, an aide to President Obama, was meeting with top officials from federal agencies working to implement the Affordable Care Act. He was also in treatment for stage IV colorectal cancer.

A soft "bzzt" every 90 seconds alerted him to another dose and another wave of nausea. He timed the cadence of his questions and comments to the ebb and flow of the chemo.

No one seemed to notice, and that's how he wanted it.

As deputy Cabinet secretary, Robertson, 37, helps coordinate the president's dealings with his department heads and top advisers. It's the sort of high-pressure, behind-the-scenes job on which White Houses depend.

An adept multitasker who lines his bookshelves with white binders devoted to projects, he was perfectly cast for this role as the administration grappled with the complicated rollout of the health care law.

And for most of his tenure, he did so with determined anonymity, only to emerge from his silence in December after he saw a Senate debate over the law and was stunned by the ferocity of the opposition.

"It was personal against me now, and against all those people I met and saw throughout," he said.

Robertson, who was diagnosed at age 35, wrote a passionate account of his cancer and posted it on the White House website to illustrate how important insurance is even for young people. Noting he had paid just 1 percent of the $900,000 cost for five surgeries, radiation and chemo, he wrote, "Without that, I would have bankrupted my family just to stay alive."

And without Obamacare's guarantee that he could buy affordable insurance despite his pre-existing medical condition, he wrote, "there's no telling what life would have been like for us moving forward."

Since then, he has become a symbol to colleagues at the White House of determination to carry out the law. The deadline for signup is today.

Fighting for the Affordable Care Act through stage IV cancer 03/30/14 [Last modified: Sunday, March 30, 2014 9:50pm]
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