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Health Insurance Inaction More Likely to Kill You Than a Drunk Driver or Psychotic Murderer

In roughly the time it takes to read this article, one American dies of not having health insurance or access to care. Take two down if you are a slow reader.

Here’s a special note to the Republican Party, its Congressional leadership, fellow-travellers like Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, and Rush Limbaugh, Big Pharma, and the insurance industry as the Senate Finance Committee prepares to debate the public option on Tuesday: Every 12 minutes, you kill a fellow American who doesn’t have access to health care due to a lack of coverage.


While totally irrational tea baggers claim President Obama is somehow both a Commie and a Nazi, as a result of a new study those of us in the reality-based world can hold up a sign of, say, H. Edward Hanway, chairman and chief executive of CIGNA Corp., or any other industry CEO, with the phrase “Helped Kill 5 People This Hour.” While we might be as tasteless as the poppycock protesters on the rampaging right, at least we’d be accurate.

Who says so? No less an authority than Harvard University's medical school.

According to new Harvard University research released Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, in roughly the time it takes to read this article, one American dies of not having health insurance or access to care. Take two down if you are a slow reader.

One of the co-authors, Dr. David Himmelstein who is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, observes, "The Institute of Medicine, using older studies, estimated that one American dies every 30 minutes from a lack of health insurance. Even this grim figure now is an underestimate. Now, one dies every 12 minutes."

Deader Than In Iraq
In 2009, the nation claiming to provide the best medical care in the word simply killed nearly 45,000 people, dead because they couldn’t afford insurance or medical care. The previous study was done in 2004. So, in less than a half-decade, the death rate caused by not having health insurance more than doubled.

In case the intellectually challenged GOP still doesn’t get it, Dr. Himmelstein put it in real simple terms, telling Reuters, "We're losing more Americans every day because of inaction ... than (by) drunk driving and homicide combined.”

Or, in language even the GOP can’t help but comprehend, the lack of health insurance kills nearly nine times more people in the US every year than the total who died in Iraq and Afghanistan combined since 2001.

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Overall, researchers find that American adults age 64 or younger who lack health insurance have a 40% higher risk of death than those with coverage. Those are close to the high mortality rates for smokers and drug addicts.

Another co-author of Health Insurance and Mortality in U.S. Adults, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler – who also teaches medicine at Harvard and is a physician in Cambridge MA – compared the situation in America with the rest of the world.

"Historically,” Dr. Woolhandler says, “every other developed nation has achieved universal health care through some form of non-profit national health insurance. Our failure to do so means that all Americans pay higher health care costs and 45,000 pay with their lives."

The Baucus Caucus
Don’t think that Blue Dogs and ConservaDems – who should rightly be renamed ObstructaDems – are faultless here.

In exchange for the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to them as campaign contributions by the health insurance industry and the rest of the medico-industrial complex, they are complicit in the killing of sick people in their own country – including residents of their own state or district.

And Max Baucus manages to keep a straight face while proposing a subsidy to insurance companies by requiring everyone to buy a policy from one of them. An executive at Humana, a large insurance company, who is not authorized to speak to the media told me confidently, “We can write a bare-bones policy on anyone, even people with cancer or bad hearts. We just set the premiums high enough, put the deductible in the $10,000 per year range, have a 30% co-pay on everything else, and take 90 days to pay providers. It’ll be a license to print money.”

In other words, the Baucus Caucus’ brilliant idea of providing coverage to all means that somebody who is diagnosed with cancer and runs up $100,000 in medical bills one year for exams, tests, chemo, radiation and possibly surgery, will be out of pocket somewhere around forty grand. And the insurance companies become legalized thieves that would make Wall St. financiers whose tricky default swaps and goofy mortgages that damn near bankrupted the world in 2008 seem like philanthropists by comparison.


Poll after poll shows overwhelming voter support for a true public option. The question is whether the Baucus Caucus, Blue Dogs, ObstructaDems, and a few courageous Republicans such as Olympia Snowe are paying attention.

Charley James
The Progressive Curmudgeon