135,000 Uninsured Americans Will Die Before Health Reform Takes Effect, Analysis Finds

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Raw Story

135,000 Uninsured Americans Will Die Before Health Reform Takes Effect, Analysis Finds

Over 6,600 Uninsured Veterans Will Die by 2013: Estimate

by
Brad Jacobson

If Democrats manage to pull off efforts to reform the US healthcare
system and ensure coverage for millions who are currently without
insurance, the new system -- by design -- will likely still leave tens
of thousands to die without insurance before reforms kick in.

A
Raw Story analysis, based on a recent Harvard Medical School study,
estimates that 135,000 American citizens and over 6,600 US veterans
will die due to a lack of health insurance before current proposed
healthcare reform measures would take effect.

One hundred and
thirty-five thousand US lives far exceeds the total number of Americans
who died in the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the attacks of 9/11
combined. The lives of over 6,600 US veterans is more -- by over 1,300
-- than the total number of US soldiers who have thus far died in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Dr.
Steffie Woolhandler, a professor of medicine at Harvard University and
co-author of the Harvard Medical School study, called Raw Story's
estimates "quite reasonable."

Even more shocking is that these are modest estimates.

Health
reform policy experts who spoke with Raw Story confirmed that the House
and Senate bills would do virtually nothing for currently uninsured
Americans until 2013 and 2014, respectively. Raw Story's calculations
are based on the House health reform bill's projections. The Senate
bill, however, would add another year of lethal lag time, driving up
the estimated death rate by tens of thousands more US citizens and
veterans.

In part, the proposed Senate and House healthcare
reform bills don't begin providing comprehensive coverage for several
years because they are designed to meet President Obama's promised goal
of creating a "deficit-neutral" healthcare package.

Raw Story's analysis is based on a recent Harvard Medical School study published in the American Journal of Public Health and a subsequent report by a team of Harvard Medical School researchers who took part in the initial study.

The first study revealed
that approximately 45,000 Americans die each year from lack of health
insurance. The second study, released on the eve of this past Veterans
Day, estimated that more than 2,200 US veterans died in 2008 due to a lack of health insurance.

In
an interview with Raw Story, Dr. David Himmelstein, associate professor
of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the two studies,
also pointed out a rarely discussed fact: The proposed reforms in both
the House and Senate bills, even in the long run, would still leave
"vast numbers" of Americans uninsured and those who are partially
insured with inadequate coverage.

In the House bill, for instance, even after uninsured Americans would begin receiving health insurance, a projected 18 million would still not be covered; roughly 23 million would remain uninsured in the Senate bill.

"So
basically they've taken the bad approach and the slow approach both,"
said Himmelstein, a proponent of a national single-payer healthcare
system. "And there's no particular reason other than political
expediency why either of those things should exist."

Veterans' advocate says analysis 'very disturbing'

Paul
Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, called Raw
Story's analysis "very disturbing" and said the "tragic" numbers demand
"immediate action by the President of the United States."

"Veterans
for Common Sense is outraged that, in 2009, veterans are dying because
of a lack of healthcare," Sullivan said. "We believe healthcare is a
human right."

He did, however, credit President Obama for taking
steps to reverse what he described as former President Bush's
"deplorable" legacy of neglecting veterans' health.

Sullivan also
believes this is a national security issue and cited, for example, the
correlation between the shortage of physicians in the military and the
suicide epidemic.

Just last month, the Christian Science Monitor reported that the US Army is understaffed by as many as 800 mental health professionals and 300 substance abuse counselors. On Monday, Time magazine
reported that the Army has so far lost 147 soldiers this year to
suicide, which is the highest number of suicides since the Army began
keeping track of them in 1980.

"You can't deploy someone to war two or three times and never give them a mental health exam," Sullivan said.

"And
when a veteran says he's having nightmares, he can't sleep and has to
see a doctor," he continued, "but he has to wait several months before
someone tells him he's not going to see a doctor at all and then goes
and blows his brains out. That's essentially what's happening right
here. And that's a legacy of President Bush's failure."

Woolhandler,
who testified before Congress in 2007 about uninsured veterans, also
sees these numbers, both for US veterans and everyday citizens as a
national security issue.

"Other developed countries have dealt
with it that way," said Woolhandler, who supports a single-payer
healthcare system. "They've said as a matter of national policy, we
need to make our people healthy and secure financial health with health
insurance and have felt that was a national obligation. I think that
the other nations are correct in that regard."

Himmelstein said
that the health of our citizens and veterans is not considered a
national security issue "because the powerful forces in our country
don't care about the people who die."

"The insurance companies
and the corporate interests who largely fund our government don't
actually care if 45,000 people or 2,200 veterans die," he said. "They
do care to maintain the US control of, or at least contention for,
oil-rich parts of the world and strategic assets and those sorts of
things. So I think it's a matter of what's in the interest of the
corporations that by and large make policy in this country."

Why the wait until 2013 or 2014?

While
a new health insurance system certainly can't be implemented overnight,
health and policy experts believe the delay in providing uninsured
Americans with health insurance is chiefly due to political
considerations.

Dr. Himmelstein asked, "Why do we need to wait
three or four years for a program to kick in?" and noted the speed with
which Medicare went into effect.

President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law on July 30, 1965 and millions of seniors began receiving coverage within 11 months.

Himmelstein
said the reason for the delay in either of the health reform bills is
"very simple" and called it an "accounting trick."

"It's because
it's so expensive that in order to get a ten-year budget estimate
that's under the $900 billion figure, you have to delay it for three or
four years," he explained. "It's really a budget estimate that's only
six years worth of reform. That's the only way they can keep the cost
estimate down to something that's conceivable."

Agreeing with
Himmelstein's assessment, Dr. Woolhandler said, "Logistics are doable
in a very short timeframe. The politics are the difficult part."

She added, "Ten years of taxes and six or seven years of benefits, so of course you can make something break even."

Steve Findlay, senior health policy analyst at Consumers Union, the independent non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, thinks that's "absolutely" the case and described it as "a tried and true" method of funding big government programs.

"Part
of the drill here is to start collecting money and then the benefit
doesn't actually kick in until later," Findlay said. "Once you begin to
parse things out, you realize that one of your most substantial ways of
saving money or of making the budget work is to, well, let's just put
that off for a year."

Congressional Budget Office spokeswoman Melissa Merson declined to comment for this article.

Findlay, though, did point out that it's going to take time to set up the new marketplace.

But
he added, "Could they do it faster than 2014 or 2013? You know, you go
to war sometimes in two weeks. So I mean when you want to do things,
you can do them. But in this case, arguably it's not war. We would love
to see it implemented sooner."

Additionally, Findlay sees "industry influence" as a deciding factor in the lag time.

He
explained that whenever large-scale changes and "mega programs" like
this are launched they usually have an implementation process that
takes two to three years.

"But the reason for that, speaking very
frankly," Findlay said, "is industry influence on the process. Industry
will always be arguing in the hallways of Congress, ‘If you're going to
do it, you know, at least give us a few years.' And their argument is
always the same really: ‘It's going to cost us a lot of money to do
this. We have to change our systems. We have to readjust our products
and our services.' And blah, blah, blah."

"That's an argument
that almost always prevails with respect to whether it's environmental
regulations, welfare policy, you name it," he continued.

But
Findlay noted the stimulus package, in which some of our largest
financial institutions received a government bailout in a much shorter
timeframe, was an exception.

Margaret F. Riley, a health law
professor at the University of Virginia, thinks the budget is a "huge"
reason for the delay. Yet she also believes there are other reasonable
political considerations at play, such as the desire to avoid
negatively affecting the health insurance of Americans who are already
receiving benefits in the process of rolling out a new system.

Still, she said, "I'm not a fan of the delay. I think there are many reasons the delay runs risks."

Her primary concern is what might transpire in the interim.

"In the political world," Riley noted, "four years is an eternity and anything could happen to any bill passed."

The
White House, Senate Leader Harry Reid's office, and House Leader Nancy
Pelosi's office did not return Raw Story's calls for comment.

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