Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’

Pick Any Number but Make it 18,314

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

Governor Christie got himself in trouble over the traffic jam his aides created at the George Washington Bridge partly because emergency vehicles could not get through and because there was the possibility that one 90-year old woman might have died because she did not get to the hospital in time.

We take death seriously in this country. Or do we? I recently finished reading The Healing of America by H.R. Reid, which I highly recommend. I have been avoiding the debate about Obamacare because it is so complicated and so partisan. But Reid, a long-time correspondent for The Washington Post, both explains the Affordable Care Act and presents health care in a straightforward way. He went from country to country with his bad shoulder to see what different health systems would prescribe and charge. In the U.S., doctors recommended a total shoulder replacement, a procedure with many potential side effects and a cost of about $10,000. In India, however, Reid stayed at a clinic for $42 a night, including food and treatments, and found the massage and herbal remedies reduced the pain and increased the mobility of his shoulder.

Reid’s central point is that health care is a moral issue. We are the only industrialized country that does not provide universal health care and which apparently does not believe that health care is a basic human right to which all are entitled. Our constitution says that all of us have a right to life, but apparently we don’t really believe that. When people do not have health care, they can die.

Reid cites a study done in 2000 about the number of preventable deaths that occurred each year because 30 million people did not have health care. The number was 18,314. A similar study, done in 2009 when there were more than 45 million uninsured people, estimated the number to be 44,789.

To be conservative, let us use the smaller number, and let us remember it: 18,314. How should we react when we hear that 18,314 of our citizens die needlessly every year? When approximately 3,000 people were killed at Pearl Harbor, we entered World War II, with an enormous cost of money and lives. When about an equal number were killed on 9/11, we started another costly war.

So when do we begin the war on insurance companies? Our health care plans are not really so different from those in other countries, like Germany and Japan, which also have insurance companies. But rates for procedures are set by the governments of those countries. Only in America do insurance companies make profits, and of course the incentive when you are trying to maximize profits is to charge a lot for everything and to deny care rather than to offer it. Incidentally, this also makes our health care the most expensive of any developed nation as well as about the least effective. We spend 16.5 percent of our GDP on health care (vs. 8.1 percent in Japan), while, according to the World Health Organization, we rank 37th in quality and fairness of the system, behind Costa Rica. We rank 24th in the world in average life expectancy.

I have learned more about Obamacare, and I can see there are good and bad features. Some constraints on insurance companies (good), some burdens on some individuals who will see their payments increase and who have to negotiate a lot of red tape (bad). For me, the biggest plus is that by 2019, 32 million more people will have health insurance, both through Medicaid and through private insurers. Of course, the estimate is that 23 million will be uninsured. There still will be needless deaths of Americans running into the thousands, but we should be cutting down that 18,314 number.

So when are we going to be a real democracy with equal rights for all, with a moral regard for our fellow citizens, and eliminate all those deaths?