By Joseph Sparks
Columbia Missourian, April 15, 2011
The 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center killed 2,751 people. In 2001, it has been estimated that more than 18,300 people died due to lack of health insurance, according to the American Journal of Public Health.
Where was the outraged horror that six times as many people died because they lacked health insurance?
Repealing or preventing health care reform will likely kill many more people than terrorist attacks. From 2001 through 2010, about 3,450 people were killed in terrorist attacks that took place in the U.S. or against American targets. A study from the Department of Medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance, based on data from 2007-08, estimated that 45,000 adults died in the U.S. from a lack of health insurance.
Here is the missing headline to celebrate the recent first anniversary of health care reform: “No insurance: 45,000 deaths in first year.”
Since 2001, the U.S. has spent more than $1.2 trillion on the war on terror. From 2001-08, almost nothing was done to address the lack of access to health care. Late in 2008, the health care debate started that led to the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March 2010. The good news is the act will save lives. According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, by 2019, the law will reduce the number of uninsured by 32 million. This will save approximately 32,000 lives. The bad news is the act will leave 23 million people uninsured, resulting in approximately 23,000 deaths. So, while the proponents of the act were busy defending the legislation from false charges, such as death panels, they neglected to consider the amount of lives that would be saved and how many will still die.
The outcry would be deafening if the U.S. instituted an anti-terrorist policy that chose to leave more than 15 percent of the population unprotected.
The Protection and Affordable Care Act will not reduce the percent of GDP spent on health care, and this will continue to drag down the U.S. economy. The act will increase GDP spending on health care from 20.8 percent to 21 percent because it will cover more people. In terms of spending, the act is roughly equal to the current system.
What has been lost in the debate over health care reform is that it would be possible to implement a single-payer system that would cover everybody, prevent those 23,000 unnecessary deaths and reduce health care costs by 40 percent. In 2008, France, which has a single-payer system, spent just over 11 percent of its GDP on health care. In the same year, the U.S. spent 16 percent of its GDP on health care. France is ranked first in health care, while the U.S. is ranked at 37.
The difference in per capita spending is even worse for the U.S. While the U.S. spends $7,538 per capita, France spends $3,696. The U.S. spends more than twice as much on a per capita basis to achieve our dismal rank of 37.
Economic efficiency can be defined as allocating resources in a manner that minimizes waste and inefficiency. While some believe private enterprise will always be more efficient than the government, when it comes to health care, they are wrong. In every developed country that has a national health system, the percentage of GDP spent on health care is substantially less than the percentage spent in the U.S.
The tragic truth is terrorists do not have to resort to violent acts against the homeland when the lack of access to health care is so much more effective at killing Americans.
Joseph Sparks is master’s candidate in journalism at Missouri University.