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The Boston Globe

Politics

Nurse challenges Santorum

Rick Santorum spoke to voters at a campaign stop in Dublin, N.H.

REUTERS

Rick Santorum spoke to voters at a campaign stop in Dublin, N.H.

KEENE, N.H. -- Alison Cuomo-Nason, a registered nurse, got off her 12-hour shift at the emergency room of a hospital here and went in search of Rick Santorum shortly after 7 a.m. She wanted to share the story of her son, John, a cancer survivor newly graduated from college.

She stopped at the local diner where Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, was scheduled to visit, but he was a no-show. She finally met up with him more than an hour later, as did 250 others, at the basement auditorium of this town’s public library.

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She sat patiently, still dressed in her blue smocks, as Santorum talked about God-given American rights and values, and all that was wrong with the country under President Obama. The 90-minute session attracted hecklers and was briefly interrupted by the fire marshal to clear aisles of the standing-room only crowd.

When Santorum took questions, Cuomo-Nason’s was the last of the morning.

She wanted to challenge him on an earlier comment on the campaign stump, that no one, he said, has ever died because of a lack of health care in this country.

“That was a very stupid thing for me to say,” he conceded to the woman..

Her son, now 23, was diagnosed with cancer at 5, she told him. He was treated for more than three years, and graduated from college just before Christmas.

Santorum joined the crowd in applause, not knowing what was to come.

Now, he could possibly be denied health insurance because of his cancer -- a pre-existing condition that allows insurance companies to reject him for coverage if he were to attempt to buy a policy on his own. Even if he could find insurance, it would be for premiums he couldn’t afford, she contended.

Santorum, who would undo the president’s health care overhaul program, which forbids insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, told Cuomo-Nason that higher premiums for those with pre-existing conditions is a reasonable practice. He favored a consumer-driven model of health care.

To expect that everybody pays the same “is unfair to those who do everything right” when it comes to maintaining their health.

But in the face of her son’s example of a disease that is no fault of his, Santorum acknowledged that charging higher premiums for those with pre-existing conditions is a problem. “I disagree with that, and I would change that,” Santorum said.

Last month, Santorum came under fire after a back-and-forth exchange in Iowa.

“I reject ... that people die in America because of lack of health insurance. People die in America because people die in America,” he was quoted as saying. “And people make poor decisions with respect to their health and their health care. And they don’t go to the emergency room or they don’t go to the doctor when they need to. And it’s not the fault of the government for not providing some sort of universal benefit.”

Cuomo-Nason, who advocates universal health care, wasn’t entirely satisfied with Santorum’s response today, but said he did “a better job than I thought. But I’m still not voting for him.”

As for her son, who majored in computer science, he’s looking for a job.

Bobby Caina Calvan can be reached at bobby.calvan@globe.com. Follow him on twitter @GlobeCalvan.
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