Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
It is a striking figure–at least 22,000 people a year die in the United States because they have no health insurance. The death figure comes from research by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a nonprofit organization chartered in 1970 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences. The IOM works “outside the framework of government to ensure scientifically informed analysis and independent guidance. The IOM’s mission is to serve as adviser to the nation to improve health. The Institute provides unbiased, evidence-based, and authoritative information and advice concerning health and science policy to policy-makers, professionals, leaders in every sector of society, and the public at large.”
The IOM report, “Uninsured and Dying Because of It,” was published in January 2008 by the Urban Institute. Its findings were summarized in the report:
The absence of health insurance creates a range of consequences, including lower quality of life, increased morbidity and mortality, and higher financial burdens…
In 2002, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) estimated that 18,000 Americans died in 2000 because they were uninsured. Since then, the number of uninsured has grown. Based on the IOM’s methodology and subsequent Census Bureau estimates of insurance coverage, 137,000 people died from 2000 through 2006 because they lacked health insurance, including 22,000 people in 2006.
Much subsequent research has continued to confirm the link between insurance and mortality risk described by IOM. In fact, subsequent studies and analysis suggest that, if anything, the IOM methodology may underestimate the number of deaths that result from a lack of insurance coverage.
As every American alive and cognizant in 2001 will remember, a bunch of politically-motivated and religiously-inspired men hijacked two planes and piloted them into the World Trade Center in New York City, killing nearly 3000 people. These men were immediately and widely termed terrorists for their actions. Americans and most of the world came together to condemn these senseless acts of violence.
Most people believe that it is simply unacceptable to kill people over political grievances, when those people do not threaten one’s own life. When Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995, killing 168 people, he was motivated by political pay-back for the government’s actions at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco in 1993 and the FBI’s actions at Ruby Ridge in 1992. He was justly condemned and abhorred for his actions.
The opponents of health insurance reform, which is intended to make health insurance available to all Americans, are also motivated by political concerns, some by religious ones (“the poor you shall always have with you”). It may be that their notions about the role of government in the United States would be violated if that government provided health insurance for the nearly 50 million Americans who are unable to afford it today. And by their own admission, some people’s political motivation to thwart health care reform is to prevent President Obama’s promise of reform from becoming a reality in order to cripple his presidency.
John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, headquartered in Austin, begins an article against health insurance reform in the Wall Street Journal (August 11, 2009) by arguing that it is nothing but socialism–the term used by many right-wing ideologues to oppose all government programs that don’t rely entirely on the so-called free market.
Mackey’s WSJ opinion piece almost completely ignores those millions of Americans who have no insurance, 22,000 of whom die each year because they lack coverage. For these Americans, he calls for tax-deductible donations from charitable tax-payers to help them out, a tepid idea to say the least. This is the last of his eight suggested reforms, most of which merely tinker with the present inadequate, failing private health insurance market. For me, covering these Americans is the first priority. If we can’t get every American who wants health insurance covered, whatever is proposed is of little value to the people who need health care.
But Mackey apparently does not believe in a right to life. He writes that he opposes any notions that people should have a right to food, shelter, and health care, though his feeble heart does ooze for them just a bit (or so he claims). From his previous writings, we know that he opposes the right of association if that means some employees want to form a union. Are we to conclude from what he writes that he wants to eliminate food stamps (I’m sure that not many food stamp recipients shop at his grocery store, given the high prices, e.g., a ten-cent, 21-ounce container of iced tea costs $2.99 plus tax), homeless shelters, federal housing assistance, public housing, Medicare, Medicaid, and VA health services, along with any other guarantees of food, shelter, and health care?
Mackey exhibits blind adherence to his political belief in the magic of the free market. The problem with magic, of course, is that it’s not real. It is an illusion or supernatural phenomenon. Real people need real solutions, not magic. To Mackey, health care is just another commodity to be peddled by businesses without regard to the human cost.
Mackey writes, without offering any proof, that there is rationed health care in those countries with universal systems, but he fails to recognize the rationing caused by the free market in the United States. One hundred million Americans have no health insurance or have such poor policies that they are unable to get the health care they need. That is extreme rationing for nearly one out of three Americans.
Among Mackey’s major concerns are the costs involved with providing health care insurance for all Americans. However, he fails to recognize that the US free market wastes enough money to cover the health care needs of all Americans not now covered. The World Health Organization (WHO) has found that the United States spends nearly twice as much of its Gross Domestic Product on health care as does England. Both countries have nearly the same number of nurses, doctors, and acute care hospital beds per capita, yet the United States spends nearly $7300 per person per year on health care, while England spends less than $3000 per year. And Brits enjoy a longer life expectancy (by two years–80 versus 78) and have an infant mortality rate of 4.8 per 1000 live births, while the US has a 6.7 infant mortality rate. It is sobering to realize that the WHO ranks the US health care system as 37th in the world. But for people like Mackey, who have excellent health insurance, it is easy to ignore the health care reality faced by nearly one-third of our citizens.
Mackey is concerned that providing health insurance to all Americans will be a cost that we can’t afford. Such a myopic view ignores the incredible waste of trillions of dollars being spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the incredible loss of life in those two countries, but Mr. Mackey expresses no concerns for these costs, perhaps because his beloved corporations, the ones so anxious to protect the free market, are the major beneficiaries of the government’s treasure spent to wage war. Surely, if we can find the money to wage senseless wars, we can find the money to provide every American quality health care insurance.
I can’t be sure of Mr. Mackey’s motivations for opposing effective health care reform, but his ideas will not provide all Americans access to affordable, effective health care at least as good as Medicare, which is the standard by which all health care proposals should be judged. Not one of his eight propositions would affect my health insurance coverage in any beneficial way.
Mackey claims that in England and Canada citizens “are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them.” If he had bothered to do even minimal research about those health care systems, he would know that his statement is false. Health care decisions in both countries are decided by doctor and patient, not the government. In fact, in Canada, the government merely pays health care bills. It hires no doctors, nor does it have a system to approve certain procedures as is the case with free market insurance in the US. Mackey has become yet another voice in the right-wing propaganda machine, which opposes health insurance for all Americans.
When a person’s political and/or religious views excuse or ignore the premature and unnecessary deaths of 22,000 human beings each year because they don’t have access to adequate health care insurance, I believe it is time to renounce those beliefs. Otherwise, how are we to judge that killing 3,000 people in 2001 as a result of political and/or religious beliefs is a worse offense? If you know that the political act of denying nearly 50 million people adequate health insurance will result in 22,000 deaths per year, is that denial, in its own way, a senseless act of violence? Is it morally equivalent to flying planes into the World Trade Center?
Mr. Mackey, nearly all Republicans in the Congress, and many Democrats are politically (and perhaps religiously) opposed to universal coverage or a public option to provide health insurance to all Americans who do not have it. Not one of them has suggested any other way that will satisfy the health care needs of the 100 million who have no health insurance, or inadequate health insurance. Their failure to act to seek real solutions to health insurance for all Americans will result in 22,000 unnecessary and avoidable deaths during the next twelve months. They should be held accountable for those deaths. When political or religious views become more important than human life, our civilization is in peril.
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. HankinsEmail | Print