Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Health Care Post

I realize you don't come here to read my personal opinions on current events. This is, after all, John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Film and Television, but since I'm sick with the flu today, my thoughts ran to the health care debate causing such strife across the nation.

I'm certain the Laura Ingrahams of the world are out there somewhere yelling "shut up and sing," but that's's their right to yell. Just as it's my right to express my opinion. I'm also providing links so that you know my opinion here is supported by those "stupid things" called facts and statistics.

Okay, first of all, Reuters reported in September of this year (last month) that 45,000 Americans die in the U.S. each year (one every 12 minutes, actually...), in large part "
because they lack health insurance and cannot get good care." That's a pretty startling figure, no? Just think about that for a minute and let it sink in. 45,000 of your country-mates die every year because they can't afford health insurance from a private industry responsible (in 2007) for some 730 billion dollars in unnecessary bureaucracy and waste. This is the same industry that will double health care premiums in seven years if unchecked.

Let me put this tragedy in human terms. Forgive me for being specific or providing too much personal information, but it's illustrative, I believe, of the debate. In the year 2006, my wife and I elected to have a child. We are both self-employed and pay entirely for our own health care. To carry maternity insurance and deliver our child safely, we paid out of pocket (to our insurance company...) approximately $14,000 dollars in the year 2006. In 2016, if nothing is done, it would cost double that to have a child: $28,000.00.

I hasten to add, my wife did not use any drugs during delivery (she didn't even have an epidural) and we had no problems with fertility. In either case, we would have spent even more in health care costs. This isn't a sob story; my wife and I can afford our health care premiums because we are good savers, hard workers, and responsible with our money. But what if our premiums double by 2016? That will be a harder bite to take. And what if they double again in another seven years, after that, by 2023? We would be working full time just to pay for our health care premiums. You tell me: does the health care industry urgently need regulation and reform, or is this an acceptable "future" in America?

My point here is simply that not everybody is as successful or as lucky as my wife and I have been. The median income for an American family in the year 2009 is down 3.6 percent and stands at roughly $50,000.
Because of the Recession of 2008-2009, incomes aren't likely to go up very much in the next seven years. It's actually far more likely that they will go down. Still, let's be even-handed in our projections and imagine that the median income stays about the same in 2016, at roughly $54,000 for argument's sake. If you can even afford health care, it's going to cost you half your income to have a child. Why is this important? Well, does "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" ring any bells? "Posterity" means future. It means, in other words, children. If even middle-class, professional Americans can't afford to have children in 2016, I have two questions. A.) How can we shower the blessings of liberty on our posterity? And B.) Who's going to grow up, join the U.S. Army and fight all those godless Muslim, socialist countries?

Now let's talk national priorities here. 45,000 Americans die from a lack of quality health care a year. How many die because of terrorist attacks? Well, here's a chart that weighs the relative threat from various deadly forces, accounting for the eleven years from 1995 - 2005. You'll see that "driving off the road" killed 254,419 Americans in that span. Accidental poisoning took out 140,327 Americans. The flu killed 19,415 of our brethren. Hernias (!) killed 16,742.

And terrorism? In that eleven year span, it took...3,147 lives.

Now let's see how much we've spent in Iraq, the "central front in the War on Terror," so far. In 2008, America spent in the Iraq conflict (and I'm not even counting Afghanistan, folks...) roughly $5,000 dollars a second. That comes to 12 billion dollars a year. The cost of keeping one American soldier in Iraq is $390,000 dollars a year (and that doesn't include the care for the wounded 31,483 American soldiers back here in the States). Over the span of the Iraq War, America has spent $1.6 trillion dollars in Iraq.

To combat a threat ("Terror") that took 3,147 lives in eleven years. Do you feel safer now?

My question is this: how can the U.S. Constitution claim to "promote the general welfare," or even "provide for the common defense," when we are spending so much money fighting an enemy that takes less lives a year than...hernias? Why haven't we spent that much cool cash on a War on Hernias? Or a War on Flu? Or a War on Driving off the Road? (The Axles of Evil!) My point, of course, is that reforming Health Care in the United States is a task that would provide tangible, immediate benefits: saving 45,000 lives a year. Just think, that's 45,000 person expansion of the tax revenue base!

Right wing ideologues suggest that government-run health care is socialist and Anti-American. I hear these people complaining about government waste all the time (while simultaneously saying "keep the government's hands off my Medicare!") Well, as I pointed out above, what about the 730 billion dollars of waste in the insurance industry? A governmental public option would provide a new and powerful source of competition for these wasteful, bloated bureaucracies and actually reduce costs for EVERYBODY by providing an incentive for private companies to do better. I thought right-wingers would approve of competition. Why not let the market decide if a public option would bring down costs?

This is my idea: for the next six years (the duration so far of the Iraq War), let's rattle our sabers and pretend that America is indeed at war with Hernias, Flu, and the other ailments that steal 45,000 American lives a year. Let's spend 1.6 trillion on that conflict, and in doing so "promote the general welfare," "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" and "provide for the common defense" (against illness). Let's re-prioritize.

Finally, allow me to quote John McCain. "Elections have consequences." Obama won the popular vote by margin of over 10 million, five-hundred thousand votes. He stormed the Electoral College 365 - 173. And it's not like he ever suggested in the campaign that health care wasn't on his agenda. He'll have his "accountability moment" in 2012. But so as far as I can see, saving 45,000 American lives a year over four years (that's 180,000 American lives in just one presidential term!) is a wise and moral investment on Obama's part. If you're against universal health care or a public option, fine. If you're against raising taxes to pay for health care, fine. That is your right as an American: to have a different view. But there are real world consequences for your opposition to health care reform: 45,000 American lives lost a year.

So the next time you wave a fellow flag and claim that you are a patriotic American, try to remember the fallen in the War on the Hernias, the Flu, and Driving off the Road. Saddam Hussein ain't got nothing on them!

Tomorrow I shut up and sing...


  1. Amen, amen, and AMEN.

  2. Great, great post, John. Well done and well said. I'd add a couple other stunning numbers: at least 1 million Americans file for bankruptcy each year due to catastrophic healthcare costs. And even if you have health insurance and suffer a heart attack (something pretty common for us in the USA), your out of pocket costs are around $20,000.

    Most healthy people really don't know the real limitations of their own insurance policies. They quickly find out once them or a family member has to deal with a serious malady. The right pushes the straw man argument that healthcare/insurance reform is the start of communism here in America. Just crap. Socialism/communism is just not in our country's DNA. It's got as much of a chance as a horny teenager succeeding with abstinence.

    All of the boogie man arguments the right throws at this is to protect the insurance companies from competition, not protect U.S. citizens from a socialist agenda. Thanks, John, for an important post.

  3. Thank you Pax Romano and Le0pard13 for adding your comments to mine here.

    Le0pard13: Those numbers are indeed stunning, and I think you're right: many Americans are okay with the status quo simply because they haven't experienced a health catastrophe in their own families (yet).

    Very soon, if things don't change in this matter, the middle class will be entirely priced out of Health Care. And after that...there will be no middle class left.

    I don't believe Obama is pushing socialism or communism; but it sure looks like the Right is pushing class warfare!

    Bottom line: adequate health care is a right of all Americans, and if we need to amend the Constitution to explicitly say that, then so be it.


  4. Another "hear, hear". Believe it or not, I'm generally Libertarian (and have voted for Ron Paul in the past) but I say: government health care NOW! The system we have is SO destroyed (largely by government/corporate collusion)that the Free Market cannot fix it as it stands. It literally makes us the equivalent of a third world country (though I think some of them are ahead of us in this area) and shames us compared to other democracies. Government has a role in meeting challenges and fixing problems. Even Ayn Rand supported the moon program, and this mess is easily the equivalent in terms of challenge.

  5. I certainly agree with all of these sentiments. As someone who has a loved one dependent on our health care plan, for prices to skyrocket would be disastrous. If it does get that bad I am very tempted to move back to Canada and socialized medicine.