Thursday, August 13, 2009

Truth Squad: The lie underneath healthcare opposition

Over the coming weeks and months I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about the campaign to reform healthcare in America. Part of that will mean taking on the lies, distortions, smears and disinformation campaign from the Republican Party and the corporate elites in the insurance and healthcare industries.

To understand what’s behind all the lies and astroturfing, it’s important to understand one thing that’s underneath it all: The Republican Party, its corporate elites and the various extremists they’re stirring up all believe that the existing healthcare system is just about perfect as it as.

Here’s the truth:

If the system was working, everyone would have access to healthcare, no one would go bankrupt for getting healthcare and no one would die because they didn’t have insurance. By those measures alone, the system in the United States is not working.

While it’s frequently said that some 48 million Americans have no health insurance, the National Association of Community Health Centers reports that 60 million Americans have no access to basic healthcare—that’s an increase of 2 million over the past two years.

And what of people who do have access to healthcare? According to “Medical Bankruptcy in the United States, 2007: Results of a National Study”, published by The American Journal of Medicine:

Using a conservative definition, 62.1% of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical; 92% of these medical debtors had medical debts over $5000, or 10% of pretax family income. The rest met criteria for medical bankruptcy because they had lost significant income due to illness or mortgaged a home to pay medical bills. Most medical debtors were well educated, owned homes, and had middle-class occupations. Three quarters had health insurance. Using identical definitions in 2001 and 2007, the share of bankruptcies attributable to medical problems rose by 49.6%. In logistic regression analysis controlling for demographic factors, the odds that a bankruptcy had a medical cause was 2.38-fold higher in 2007 than in 2001. [emphasis added]

Their conclusion is obvious and alarming: “Illness and medical bills contribute to a large and increasing share of US bankruptcies.”

What are the consequences of all this? According to estimates by the Urban Institute, “137,000 people died from 2000 through 2006 because they lacked health insurance, including 22,000 people in 2006.”

These statistics are both shocking and shameful. But between 2000-2007, basically the same period in which 137,000 people died because they lacked health insurance, the profits of health insurance companies quintupled. During the period the insurance companies were raking in cash, the percentage of Americans without insurance grew by 19%.

So: 60 million Americans have no access to basic healthcare, some 22,000 people a year die because they have no health insurance and 62.1% of all bankruptcies are caused by medical debts—including even people with insurance.

The American healthcare system is a disaster, diminishing quality of life and costing lives and livelihoods. It attacks ordinary businesses of all sorts. The facts clearly show that the only ones who benefit under the current system are the corporate elites in the insurance and healthcare industries.

So when the Republican Party and its corporate elites ague against healthcare reform, when the “Party of No” refuses to offer an alternative, then they are saying that the current system is perfect, and that’s a lie. It is, in fact, the lie on which all their other lies are built.

I originally found some of this material in Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn’s “Change of Subject” blog.

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