|Almost 50 million Americans do not have health insurance, according to the latest census [GALLO/GETTY]|
When Tea Party supporters at a recent Republican presidential debate in Florida laughed wickedly and shrieked out “YEAH!” to Wolf Blitzer’s question to Ron Paul asking if society should let an uninsured person die, I wasn’t surprised.
The hatred and immorality of the Tea Party that burst into wild applause and enthusiastic affirmations at the notion of letting a human being die was on parade before the vote on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act 2010.
Tea Party linked candidate Ron Paul’s position on health care was regurgitated with a range of Republican talking point lies: People aren’t turned away from hospitals, church charity can cure the crisis, and medical costs are skyrocketing because “individuals have stopped taking personal responsibility for their health care”.
The idea of taking personal responsibility for one’s own health is an ideological, artful dodge that means the government has no responsibility to provide health care to its population. The individuals currently taking the blame for not taking responsibility for their own health and costing the system too much are the obese and diabetics.
Congressman Paul is fanatically anti-government, yet he’s spent his entire adult life either campaigning for government office or in the employ of government. Now he’s running to be president of the “big government” he rails against. Rich Republican government-employed politicians like Ron Paul will never be uninsured because their federal government sponsored health coverage will never be dropped or made unaffordable. They have access to the best health care with ten health plans to choose from.
|45,000 people die every year in the US because they lack access to health care and medicine [GALLO/GETTY]
Members of Congress also get special treatment at Washington’s federal medical facilities. For a small additional fee, they have access to their own health care providers and a pharmacy conveniently located between the House and Senate chambers.
No need to wait on hold for twenty minutes for the next available doctor’s appointment that is in six months. No need to wait in line at Walgreens to pay the uninsured price of $1,700 for a one-month prescription of Etanercept.
Ron Paul’s prescription for the millions of uninsured is to leave health care to the magic and mayhem of the market and if you go bankrupt, it’s your own fault.
And bankrupt Americans go. In the United States, the leading cause of bankruptcy is the inability to pay medical bills. Letting people die is actually official health policy in the United States.
According to a Harvard study, 45,000 people die every year because they lack access to health care and medicine. Kyle Willis, a 24-year-old Ohio man, is one such casualty. An ER doctor prescribed pain medication and antibiotics to treat his tooth infection, but Willis couldn’t afford both prescriptions. The antibiotic was more expensive so he bought the pain pills. The infection spread to his brain and killed him. Americans die like this every single day – it’s just not front page news.
The latest US Bureau of the Census report found that there are 49.9 million uninsured but that’s a serious undercount. The report counts anyone who was insured for any part of the year as being insured, but thousands of people lose coverage throughout the year.
With job layoffs accelerating, 100,000 US postal workers are currently facing the job axe, the numbers of uninsured are set to increase. In times of economic crisis with high rates of unemployment it’s painfully clear to see how linking health coverage to a full-time job is a disaster.
The suffering of the uninsured was on full display when Remote Area Medical (RAM), a non-profit organisation that provides free health care, set up a clinic at Malcolm X College in Chicago this summer. Wherever RAM goes, thousands of uninsured line up to receive care, but thousands are turned away.
In President Obama’s home state of Illinois, over two million are uninsured. Hundreds of people with blankets and pillows camped overnight at the college to get medical, dental and vision care. Patients were registered in a wide corridor, a large classroom was set up with rows of dental chairs, and pap smears were done in private staff offices in the basement.
Janice Kelly, a middle-aged African American woman, arrived at 3 AM and joined 60 other people in line. Kelly lost Medicaid coverage in 1998 when she started working part-time. The right side of her face was swollen from having three teeth extracted. She had calculated that it cost $125 to have each tooth pulled, plus money for x-rays. It was money she didn’t have. For a year, Kelly treated the tooth pain with Orajel and Advil.
RAM provided health care to 2,000 people over three days, the vast majority of them were poor and Black with little hope of finding jobs or affordable health coverage.
Every person I interviewed, including a leading physician and one of the main RAM organisers, believed that health care was a human right and was in favour of a health care system run by the government. They wanted “Medicare for all”. Janice Kelly said: “Just like they have in Canada and Europe … It’s something everyone needs because sooner or later we’re all going to get sick and need some help. No one should be denied.”
“America’s top five health insurance companies increased their profits by 56 per cent in 2009 for a combined profit of $12.2bn, the same year that 2.7 million people lost their private health insurance.“
For over a decade, poll after poll has shown that a majority of Americans support a government-run health programme that covers everyone. And in a sea-change of attitude, a majority of doctors, fed up with private insurers interference with medical care, support single-payer.
Senator Obama supported single-payer and chanted “Everybody In, Nobody Out”.
In 2003 he said: “I happen to be a proponent of a single payer, universal health care programme … I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 per cent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see … First we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”
Obama got all three, but as president he passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act 2010 (PPACA), a piece of legislation so hopelessly inadequate in addressing the health care crisis it’s bound to go down in history as one of the cruelest jokes ever played on the American people. Everybody is not in and a lot of people are out.
The PPACA is a 2,000-page laugh track written by the insurance industry for the insurance industry. It leaves 23 million uninsured, denies undocumented immigrants health coverage, doesn’t cover abortion unless women pay separately, and mandates that the uninsured buy expensive, high deductible, high co-pay health plans via complicated state insurance exchanges or face a financial penalty.
The legislation expands the Medicaid programme to cover an additional 26 million people, but does anyone believe the federal government will still pay the entire cost for the expansion of the programme as promised? Medicaid is under bipartisan assault and hundreds of thousands of recipients have been cut off to balance state budget deficits. The Democrats are proposing $320bn in cuts to both Medicaid and Medicare to trim the federal deficit.
And guess whose laughter drowns out the Tea Partiers that Ron Paul spawned? Health insurance industry CEOs and stockholders who, in the midst of one of the deepest recessions, have pocketed record profits. America’s top five health insurance companies increased their profits by 56 per cent in 2009 for a combined profit of $12.2bn, the same year that 2.7 million people lost their private health insurance.
They’re laughing all the way to the bank while people die.
Helen Redmond is a US journalist, commentator, and drug and health policy analyst.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.