Get Sick, Die Young

By: - January 3, 2008 1:27 pm

Uninsured patients get sick faster and die younger.  Two medical reports, summarized in today's New York Times, provide comprehensive evidence that lack of health insurance is seriously harmful to a patient's health.  The reports, from Harvard Medical School and the American Cancer Society, found that uninsured people suffer significantly worse health outcomes particularly for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.  Unsurprisingly, the uninsured cancer patients had lower survival rates, especially for cancers where adequate screening tests are available, such as breast and colorectal cancers.

If ever there were a case for universal health care, this is it.

Opponents of universal health care can and do argue that universal healthcare is too expensive (please look here, it's mesmerizing) or that mandating health insurance somehow threatens their economic freedoms.  Well and good…they are free to make these arguments.  Studies like these, however, show the sometimes uncomfortable consequences of our policy decisions.  Americans are literally dying at younger ages with greater suffering than they would if we had universal health coverage.  Universal health care opponents should acknowledge this simple truth.

More importantly… by design, medical studies measure outcomes and endpoints.  No study can accurately measure the impact on quality of life for sick patients who do not receive care.  Call it your misery index.   There is no metric to gauge fear, pain, fatigue, loneliness, anxiety, or despair.  Sick patients and their families suffer; it adds insult to injury if their suffering was avoidable.  We are a better nation than that.

Or are we?  As a nation we have a tendency to deny or ignore inconvenient truths.  We will not look at that which we do not want to see.  Whether it is torture (CIA illegally destroys videotapes), or executions (no telecast from the death house at Central Prison), or casualties of war, be they heroes (Pentagon bans photographs of military coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base, view here) or innocent civilians (General Tommy Franks correctly stated official US Policy when he said "We don't do body counts."  Others are not so afraid…view their work here)

…we would rather look away than see the truth.  

So don't look at the people, in the richest nation in the world, who are suffering unnecessarily because they can't afford health insurance. It's easier that way, for the exceptional Americans.

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