Gun Violence, Health Care and the Destruction of American Lives

Why are we forced to watch this entrenched pain and suffering?

How could any of us see the photo of John Lennon's blood covered eyeglasses released by Yoko Ono recently and not mourn the senseless gun related deaths numbering over a million souls since December 1980 when Lennon was gunned down? The right to carry guns and "defend" oneself seems to have trumped the right to be safe and secure when we walk down the street or send our children to school or see our teenagers off to work at a local pizza parlor.

We're a tough, independent lot, eh? We like our freedom to dominate the rugged frontiers our foremothers and forefathers once did. We like our freedom to defend whatever it is we have deemed defensible with whatever means we have deemed legal for our selfish sensibilities at the time we feel threatened.

Yet, more than a million Americans have died since 1980 because they lacked access to medical care when they needed it - and mostly because they lacked the health coverage or the cash needed to buy that care. That's using conservative estimates of 25,000 dead each year from 1980 to 2000 and 45,000 each year since then. Roughly 1,062,500 health care dead or about the same totals as from gun violence. Who mourns these dead?

Additionally, just over the past year, more than 1.3 million Americans went bankrupt. Of those sorry souls, as many who would label them irresponsible losers might think, an estimated 60 percent or more - about 780,000 people - went financially belly up because they had a medical crisis and crushing medical bills and costs. Pesky details of a greed-based culture, I'd say. I once testified to Congress about the medical debt and bankruptcy crisis. On July 17, 2007, I sat next to then Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren as I testified to the House Judiciary Committee. The need to drive viewers to Michael Moore's award winning documentary SiCKO was most intense at that time, and the upcoming changing of the palace guard in 2008 (or what we call the American presidential elections) offered some hope for health care system change. But little has really changed since then.

The dead and the broke just keep piling up. Many of those who fought hard for transformation of the health care system have moved on to garner their personal attention and point their advocacy in other directions. Even those who fought for health care change through an improved and expanded Medicare for all for life model are now at times hard to rouse to action in the wake of the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in 2010. Yet even after passage of that legislation, those who will be left uninsured or underinsured will mean that the deaths will continue and the bankruptcies may even grow worse. Having health insurance is not having access to health care. Health insurance is a financial product marketed to protect health and wealth which often does neither thing very well.

It's the same intense sense of worshiping individualism that entrenches the gun culture and the health care greed culture -- even when others' individual rights are trampled and even extinguished forever by shots fired from a gun or denials of care offered up across a hospital or doctor's office admissions desk.

Some people fight on. Some refuse to give up even when others move towards more personally profitable advocacies or activities. Some never forget their loved ones lost or the potential this society of greed has ignored as the dead bodies pile up.

Vermont forges on towards a more sane health care system. Other states, like Colorado, have advocates who will not give up in the quest to achieve a single standard of high quality care for all. Other states are pushing too as residents see and feel the impact of allowing the crisis to continue.

We have wept for our dead. Our economy has suffered as more than 12 million people in the past 33 years have gone bankrupt while fighting a medical crisis. If we truly believed in individual rights and the pursuit of individual happiness, we'd end this cycle. It isn't just selfishness, it's much worse than that. It's a sense of individual superiority and hubris that makes us so blind to human suffering that we cannot even see the tears of our neighbors.

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