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Has ordeal changed Kirk?

Updated: January 10, 2013 6:27AM

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (D-Ill.) should reveal his medical bills.

Kirk’s office on Thursday announced he will be returning to work in January, nearly a year after he suffered a massive stroke.

Most American workers wouldn’t have been able to get a paycheck from an employer for 12 months after suffering a disabling illness. That’s their tough luck.

Kirk works for the federal government, the taxpayers, and we take good care of our employees.

Kirk, for example, benefits from an excellent health-care plan.

Yet, he once opposed wasting federal money on health insurance benefits for the people who have taken such good care of him.

At that time, when Kirk was running for the Senate in 2010, his spokesman said the Affordable Care Act “would chart an unsustainable fiscal course for our country resulting in higher debt, more taxes and fewer jobs.”

In May of this year, five months after his stroke, Kirk released a videotape of his progress at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

He thanked Illinois residents for their support and patience and said he hoped to return to the U.S. Senate soon to “vote to spend less, borrow less and tax less to fix our economy.”

It seemed strange to me at the time that a fellow who had gone through a life-saving surgery and extensive follow-up medical treatment would be thinking primarily about cutting federal spending.

My guess is that some federal spending could have been cut had Kirk not gotten such top-notch medical care after he was sick.

Had he sought the cheapest care possible, instead of going to the best hospitals in Chicago and one of the best rehabilitation clinics in the nation, he might have saved taxpayers a few bucks.

As one of Kirk’s employers, I would have urged him to get the best treatment he could, stay home as long as he needed and we would worry about the expense later.

That’s one reason people sometimes refer to me as a liberal.

But I am also interested in how much things cost.

From personal experience, I know that even a visit to an emergency room, a couple of days in a hospital, can be very expensive.

It’s often said that U.S. congressmen are covered by the “Cadillac of health insurance plans.”

In fact, there is no one plan. Congressmen are given several options to choose from through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which covers more than 8 million federal employees.

All of those plans require some sort of payroll deduction with the federal government typically picking up more than 70 percent of the premiums.

Kirk, concerned as he is about cutting costs, could have opted for an HMO.

I’m guessing he is smarter than that.

No matter the health insurance, however, there are always medical costs that aren’t covered by insurance.

It would be interesting to know just how much Kirk’s medical treatment is costing him out of pocket.

For one thing, many Republicans tout a 401(k)-type personal medical savings plan instead of national health-care, as if people might actually sock enough money away out of their paychecks to pay their medical bills.

Would such a plan have worked for Kirk? If he had set aside $20,000, $50,000 or even $200,000, would that have covered his expenses?

This could be a teaching moment.

Any one of Kirk’s constituents, or their loved ones, could experience a medical catastrophe tomorrow.

I would also like to know if his views on ObamaCare, as the federal health plan is often called, have changed.

I wish the senator the best of luck. As a taxpayer, I have been happy to support him in his time of need and pleased to keep him on the payroll despite the difficult financial condition of our nation.

I’m just wondering if he’s willing to be as compassionate and understanding toward those of us who have supported him.

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