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Americans will die unnecessarily until Congress reforms health care

Discussion about health-care reform is getting more heated and more complicated. Debates rage about how much it will cost, if it will be effective, how it will affect the quality of care, and what it will mean for insurance companies and consumers/users. While all these issues are of importance, what is missing in the discussion is the simple fact that people are dying unnecessarily because of lack of a universal-health-care system.

According to “Dying for Coverage, New State Reports” (from Families USA, March-April 2008), “In 2002, the Institute of Medicine released a groundbreaking report, Care without Coverage: Too Little, Too Late, which estimated that 18,000 adults nationwide died in 2000 because they did not have health insurance. Subsequently, The Urban Institute estimated that 22,000 adults died in 2006 because they did not have health insurance. To find out what this means for people across the nation, Families USA has generated the first-ever state-level estimates of the number of deaths due to lack of health insurance.  In Minnesota an estimated 1,100 people between the ages of 25-64 died from 2000-2006 because they didn’t have health care. Across the US, the numbers who die from lack of health care is twice that of people who die from homicides.”

There is worse news. Uninsured Americans are sicker, uninsured adults are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely, and Americans between 55 and 64 are at much greater risk of premature death than their insured counterparts.This makes lack of health insurance the third leading cause of death for the near-elderly, following heart disease and cancer.

The issue isn’t cost, quality …
Read those numbers again. The issue of health-care reform isn’t about cost, or quality of care, or survival of the insurance industry. It is about life and death. Anyone who thinks differently simply is ignoring the facts. And when it comes to issues of life and death, ignorance is something we cannot afford.

Our representatives in Congress, in both the House and Senate, need to realize the gravity of their responsibility. While they cavalierly decide to put off the vote on reform until after their August vacation/recess, people will surely die because of their inaction.  Members of Congress — who enjoy their own benefits of health coverage provided by the general public — thumb their noses at those Americans who struggle every day with the lack of appropriate health care. Yes, some will surely die unnecessarily during their hiatus.

It is time to inform those members of Congress who refuse to engage seriously in reforming health care in America and refuse to consider a reasonable public option with universal coverage that their actions, or lack thereof,  absolutely result in the deaths of American citizens. Shame on them. 

We need to understand that there are members of Congress who don’t care whether people live or die. And we must take a stand that they should be removed or reminded of their moral obligation to protect the life of all citizens of our country. Congress should not delay. I pray they act before others die needlessly.

Rob Shumer is a lecturer at the University of Minnesota in the College of Education and Human Development. He teaches in the areas of civic engagement, service-learning and participatory evaluation.

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/31/2009 - 09:02 am.

    Well thank goodness Mr. Shumer is here to teach us that civic engagement needn’t rely on fear mongering and inchoate hyperbole.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 07/31/2009 - 11:01 am.

    Some of the commentators here, along with some of our politicians, seem to have a firm belief, based on their psychologically dysfunctional inability to express normal human compassion, that anyone who is in need of help of any kind, to procure food, clothing, shelter or medical care, for instance doesn’t deserve it.

    They excuse their lack of the ability to be compassionate by desperately clinging to the belief that the only people who are deserving of the basic necessities of human life are those who NEVER need anyone else’s help to pay for them.

    May each and every one of these damaged individuals: all those with this psychological dysfunction, so damaging to the well being of our nation, accidentally stumble into the kinds of experiences that send them seeking the help they need to recover from their psychological disabilities and thus return them to full membership in the human race.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/31/2009 - 11:33 am.

    Am I the only one who has noticed that some MinnPost regulars seem to have trouble keeping the stories they read straight in their heads long enough to provide a comment that comes close to relating to the current topic?

    Someone new to the site that dares read the comments might get the impression that MinnPost stories provoke free form, stream of consciousness ravings that are wholly disconnected to the topic to which they are attached.

    So as a public service, I’d like to assure new readers that this phenomenon is in no way a symptom due to the MinnPost experience; these folks showed up like this.

  4. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/31/2009 - 11:41 am.

    The snarkiness in #1 above seems to miss the well-established points of the Institute of Medicine, the Urban Institute, and Families USA cited in this column.

    The Institute of Medicine, since 1970 a component of the National Academy of Sciences, seeks to use rational, informed analysis to advise the public and its leaders on health matters.

    The Urban Institute was formed in 1968 to provide independent nonpartisan analysis of urban problems.

    Families USA is a national nonprofit, non-partisan organization advocating high-quality, affordable health care.

    The rational point is this – health care reform IS about life and death, at least for some Americans. The issue DOES relate to civic responsibility.

  5. Submitted by myles spicer on 07/31/2009 - 12:05 pm.

    The most interesting development in the health care debate to me was the recent (satirical) introduction of a bill by a Democratic congressman to turn over ALL Medicare, VA and Tri Care health care programs entirely to the private sector — noting that opponents of any public option complain that government is too inefficient. Interestingly it received NO VOTES — including none from the Republicans. Hmmmm….

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/31/2009 - 12:51 pm.

    Miles, there’s no mystery as to why no one would vote for such a bill. No private company would *want* Medicare; it’s a leaking ship sinking in a sea of red ink.

    Steve, all snark aside, we are *all* going to die some day. Some sooner than others, but in the end, we’re all doomed.

    I mock studies such as the ones listed not because the groups that conduct them are feckless, although some certianly are, but because when it comes to matters like death rates they are virtually worthless, no matter how well intentioned the researchers.

    A 30 year old crack addict lays dead in an abandoned building. Did crack kill him? Would he have trotted himself down to emergency to detox himself this morning if he had insurance? Would he be a happy, productive fellow if only he could have gotten that nasty rash treated?

    Who knows?

    But undoubtedly this fellow found himself (or someone just like him) counted among the casualties of our expensive health care system.

    Civic responsibility is important, but there is a limit to what responsibilities can be, or should be shouldered by the public. We could have 100% inclusion into the finest health care system imaginable, and we’d still have 30 year old crack addicts dying in abandoned buildings.

    It’s the nature of free people to sometimes do things that are inherently harmful to themselves.

    Don’t feel bad for them, Steve; the world is full of people that die every day trying to achieve the freedom that 30 year old addict took advantage of to kill himself.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/31/2009 - 01:17 pm.

    Rob, your thoughtful comments really seem to cut to the heart of the matter. Bless you for your compassion.

    If the answer is to cover everyone and not make changes as to how we operate this incredibly expensive system. It would be similar to throwing fuel on an existing fire.

    We need to be more bold and brave about reforming the delivery system. To make it rational, fair and to make it more economically efficient. This is the side of the equation that we have more to work on.

    It is in fact an issue of life and death as you say. But in the middle of all this talk of health care reform is the dollar.

    The problem is that everyone of those dollars is someones revenue stream and they are reluctant to give it up. I believe what your seeing right now is the force of health care reform meeting an immovable object. Which is a very powerful and very entrenched industry. One that counts on that revenue growing growing every year, faster than inflation. At some point something has to give.

    Your remark concerning a reasonable public option with universal coverage is spot on.
    Those that demagogue the issue will claim “socialist or socialized medicine”.

    People complain there are waiting lines in single payer countries and that’s true, in some there are.

    We have waiting lines now in effect. There are a lot of people who are denied care forever and that’s a waiting line.

  8. Submitted by David Mindeman on 07/31/2009 - 01:55 pm.

    Universal health care won’t stop crack addicts from dying or suicides from happening…but there is absolutely no moral reason for a person to die because he couldn’t afford a doctor or get treament for a chronic disease. If the crack addict lies in the gutter and refuses to go to treatment of his own volition — so be it. But if he lies in the gutter and dies because his country said we can’t afford to help him — then shame on us.

  9. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/31/2009 - 02:43 pm.

    #6: I surmise from your argument that you either…

    …dismiss all the death estimates due to lack of health care cited in the column – 18,000 from the 2000 report and 22,000 from the 2006 report, including 1,100 Minnesotans – as flawed data – because they are not expert enough to realize, as you claim to, that all such work they do is “virtually worthless”; or

    …believe all these dead compare well with the red herring crack addict, a virtual suicide, you have thrown in to your argument – i.e., they are people who’ve abused their personal freedom to their own detriment – i.e., it’s their own fault; or

    … if you’re not comparing all these deaths to your crack addict, perhaps you think that citing a red herring invalidates all the data cited in the column.

    I believe the professionals in these organizations do their work in good faith and that it is not worthless. Your arguments against seem based on contempt, and little else.

    Where I agree with you, and I expect most people do, is

    “…there is a limit to what responsibilities can be, or should be shouldered by the public.”

    But here is where our value systems weigh in, and create a fork in the road. Do we turn a cold eye to these 40,000 dead? Are we on higher ground because personally, we’ve managed to avoid the circumstances of those people? The heart of this public debate is this: what responsibility do we have to each other, where issues of life and death obtain, as they surely do in the issue of health care reform?

    I don’t “feel bad” for them, as you’ve suggested. I think when lives are truncated due to the cause cited in these studies, it is a loss we all share. And besides, from a selfish point of view, guess who’s next?

  10. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/31/2009 - 04:25 pm.

    #6 Perhaps you take your mission as a “notorious exposer of left wing prevarication” a bit too serious.

    Your habit of dismissing statistics and data that do not support your point of view is quite clear. As #9 points out, your argument seems based more on contempt than sound reasoning. Its really no more sophisticated than that.

  11. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/31/2009 - 04:36 pm.

    Steve, to suggest my carefully stated, reasoned comment revolves around my belief the “all these dead compare well with the red herring crack addict” isn’t fair.

    I brought the “crack addict” into the discussion to illustrate how numbers can be misleading, not to suggest every death cited in the report is due to abuse of personal freedoms, or that *everyone* that dies without health insurance is at fault (although I do believe that deaths due to drug overdoses are no one else’s fault).

    My point is this. If you’re going to use statistics to say that X number of people die due to lack of health insurance, it’s perfectly reasonable to set a standard by which those numbers can be classified.

    There are those that argue that every single health related issue should be covered by public insurance as a civic duty…I disagree.

    If you’re going to engage in behaviors that are inherently dangerous, you had better be prepared to pay for the consequences if things go south. In any case, you damn well can’t use thier story to beat me over the head with a “lack of concern” argument

    The crack addict isn’t on par with the guy or gal that comes down with a nasty disease through an “act of God”; that’s why it’s not fair to lump them into the statistics. The guy out there busting his hump that gets laid low? Sure, I say help that guy…the crack addict? Sorry to hear about it.

    It’s the same with the number of uninsured being claimed in reports. How many of those people are uninsured because they choose not to be? How many are temporarily uninsured? The reports never say.

    If 25% of the population is chronically uninsured (one of several figures I’ve read), are you prepared to drag the high quality services 75% of us enjoy down to a third rate, rationed services level to be able to include that 25%?

    Because that is what happened in Canada, and is what will I believe with all my heart will happen here if we get saddled with socialized medicine.

  12. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/01/2009 - 06:48 am.

    Thomas, as you so eloquently put it…

    “Squirt us some tears”

  13. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/01/2009 - 06:00 pm.

    Well, there it is.

    Once again.

    You’d think that after being on the receiving end of the razor sharp wit of scary smart liberals for so many years I would just throw in the towel….I mean, how could people *this* intelligent be wrong about anything, right?

    Sigh..just call me Sisyphus.

  14. Submitted by sangryul han on 08/02/2009 - 09:04 am.

    From my standpoint, No Rationing Is Required.

    In case you are a doctor, and your pay is dependent upon your patient’s outcome, you will more likely strive to prescribe the best medicine for your patient, let alone avoiding unnecessary cares, and hope your patient will feel better as promptly as possible.

    Studies have documented that nearly one half of physician care in the United States is not based on best practices and that at least 98,000 Americans die of a ‘medical error’ each year.

    Under the new health care program, practitioners are expected to eagerly and ‘voluntarily’ implement the ‘recommendations’ to work best for them, I think.

    Nowadays, we can’t imagine the society without IT SYSTEM, just to think of the bank that lacks it, presumably what we should fear most would be the medical institutes without A MUST. I think measurable savings in the transformative health program might be reached.

    Thank So Much !

  15. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 08/02/2009 - 07:13 pm.

    While participating in online and face-to-face discussions about health care over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern among right-wingers.

    They are obsessed with possible cheaters, absolutely fixated on illegal immigrants, and go into hysterics at the possibility of new taxes, with all of these factors outweighing the suffering of hardworking people who can’t afford decent health care or who have been bankrupted by medical expenses.

  16. Submitted by Robert Shumer on 08/04/2009 - 09:14 am.

    Mr. Swift’s comments about the article were interesting, yet seemed to avoid the issue I was trying to address: the moral stand of letting people die unnecessarily. He helped clarify a bit by suggesting that those who die from unfortunate circumstances are worth being concerned about, but those who die from “crack addition” and other self-inflicted causes are simply “sorry to hear about them”…..but they are not of concern or the responsibility of others. So much for “I am my brother’s keeper.”

    What do we do with those who eat poorly and bring about diabetes. Are their deaths self -inflicted? Those who smoke? Those who fail to exercise? There must be some guidelines for those worth caring about, and those we are willing to sacrifice to the “sorry to hear about it” group.

    These comments help to clarify the division between principles. I believe it is important to preserve life, even those who have serious illnesses, some mental, that threaten their lives. Others, as Mr. Swift represents, are willing to help some, but willing to simply be “sorry to hear about the deaths of others.” Perhaps that crack addict was a veteran who was down on his luck and struggling with other war related issues. Too bad.

    I still contend there is a moral issue in health care, especially saying little when the majority of people who die do so because they can’t afford or can’t find health care services. We do have a social responsibility to provide for our fellow citizens. It may just take one more Mercedes off the road.

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