Consider this shocking statistic, courtesy of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies:
Lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the United States.
Let’s think closely about that number. In their best year, terrorists killed 3,000 of us. It caused a national paroxysm that continues today. Surely the death of 18,000 people per year is a tragedy of greater proportion?
But perhaps 18,000 is too large a number to be meaningful. Perhaps one is better, so consider the story of Virginia Heineman.
Chronically ill, and as a result chronically underemployed, Ginnie was one of those people who lived on society’s margins. The medical details of Ginnie’s death remain somewhat murky, but she was found in a rocking chair in her California desert home surrounded by used-up asthma inhalers. For much of the time that I knew her, she struggled to breathe, and it seems almost certain that that struggle is what finally killed her. She also struggled to find health care, drifting in and out of the system of hospital emergency rooms and unpaid bills that is the fate of the uninsured ill.
Although America leads the world in spending on health care, it is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have coverage.
It is reasonable to think that if Ginnie – my wife Lissa’s beloved sister – had access to consistent health care, she would be alive today, and would be a productive member of society. We miss her very much.