Who Tells the Dead Patient Stories Now?
By Donna Smith
July 27, 2010, CommonDreams.org
Since the health insurance reform bill passed this past
spring, you’d think we suddenly stopped having American
patients die and suffer unimaginable horror at the hands of
the corporate owned and operated healthcare business system
in the United States. No one tells the stories. The reality
is that patients were props, and they just aren’t needed as
props any more.
An estimated 45,000 preventable deaths occurring in these
United States annually due to the lack of access to
appropriate healthcare marches on. That does not account for
those dead from other preventable causes like medical error.
45,000 every year. That’s 123 dead every day. Today’s dead:
123. Have you seen that reported anywhere? Yesterday’s
dead? 123. Any reports? Tomorrow’s dead? 123. Is anyone
trying to save those pending dead?
Though more Americans die preventable deaths every day
without access to healthcare right here at home than die in
weeks on any foreign battlefield, no one is searching for
them in the wilderness of greed and profit-driven medicine.
No one needs their painful realities right now.
123 Dead today.
Patient stories were used as props by elected officials,
mainstream and alternative media members and groups, advocacy
groups and think tanks. Relatives of dead patients made
especially good fodder for the debates. Moms and dads of
dead kids were prime targets to stand up on stages, sit at
witness tables and have their names and details of the loved-
one’s death shared with the world. Cancer patients who
could not access care were pretty valuable too. If they
could still stand, think and talk, cancer patients made for
great photo-ops for all and better fundraising tools for
123 dead tomorrow.
Some may say this is to be understood as the nation has moved
on to other issues following the passage of the health
insurance bail-out bill – we are now worried about jobs, the
oil spill, the Arizona immigration bigotry, the leak of
documents on the Afghan war. All critical issues to be sure.
Some may add that we’ll just have to wait and see if those
numbers drop in 2014 or 2016 or 2018 as parts of the health
insurance reform bill unfold
123 dead yesterday. Those insistent dead just don’t stop
dying. They aren’t waiting for a third political party to
emerge. They are the dead and the dying.
Patients are dying and suffering every single day in larger
numbers even as the weeks of recession roll on and medical
providers become even more tightly controlled about
uncompensated and undercompensated care – meaning they are
protecting their bottom lines too and uncompensated care is
the term used for patients who come without any means of
payment or with inadequate means of payment. Patients are
suffering more, not less. Payments are demanded up front.
Patients cannot pay the thousands or even the hundreds
required for treatment. More death, not less.
123 people today will not die pretty, gentle, fade away in
their sleep deaths with tearful loved ones at their sides.
They may have spent weeks or even months begging for someone
to treat them. They may have been working even weeks ago or
days ago but unable to get past the co-pay and deductibles of
their insurance to get early treatment and unable to slack
off for even one moment on their jobs lest an opportunistic
employer decide to lay people off based on unspoken measures
of value, like use of sick time for doctor visits. They will
die after arguments and struggles with those they leave
behind as the financial pressures mounted and their illnesses
I searched every news outlet page I could find to see if
anyone was reporting on yesterday’s dead. No one did. 123
people died, and few people even noticed their passing. I
searched to see if anyone was reporting the impending
slaughter of 123 innocents in the United States today, and no
one is reporting on it.
Along with the 45,000 dead, we allowed 700,000 patients and
their families to go belly-up financially in 2009. In the
U.S., medical crisis leads to more than 50 percent of the
personal bankruptcies (and of those patients, 75 percent had
health insurance). So, as we saw personal bankruptcy filings
rise 31.9 percent overall in 2009, we also added more
patients and their families into our deadbeat files. Even if
those folks get well physically, we’ll punish them forever
for having gone broke. Bankruptcy bruised credit takes years
123 dead today. 1,917 going broke today in the midst of
medical crisis. In this nation. Yet no one reports. No one.
The one thing I know for sure is that the patient horror
stories were certainly an integral part of the fuel that
moved any debate on health reform to take place at all. The
dead and dying made for a better frame for press pieces than
simply selling health reform as a way to bail out the
private, for-profit health insurance industry and bolster the
medical-industrial complex overall. Patients are necessary
in this system and in the debate only to the extent that
without them you cannot run the engines of medical profit.
123 dead. 1,917 in financial collapse. Homes lost. Futures
torn apart. And no one reports.
There are those who still clamor for real transformation of
the U.S. healthcare system from the for-profit model to a
social insurance model like extending and improving Medicare
for all. But even many of those people have somehow decided
that it’s only the money arguments that need to be made –
only the profit-takers who need convincing with the language
of more profit and fortunes still to be made.
I disagree. I think someone must have the courage to keep
reporting the healthcare war dead. In fact, I believe their
faces and their names ought to be more prominent as we go
forward as measures of what we are allowing to be done to our
fellow human beings in this nation.
123 dead yesterday. 123 dead today. 123 yet to die
tomorrow. Since the passage of the health insurance reform
bill in March 2010, 14,670 American patients are dead. And
no one spoke their names. The day we become a nation that
turns its back on that much death and suffering is the day we
have lost much more than a political battle -- we’ve lost our
[Donna Smith is a community organizer for National Nurses
United (the new national arm of the California Nurses
Association) and National Co-Chair for the Progressive
Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.]
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