The Excessive Concern Regarding Cost And Health Care Reform

Kirsten Powers has an op-ed in The New York Post making the same argument I’ve made here several times with regards to cost and health care.

What will health-care reform cost?

This question has become the obsession distracting us from the moral imperative to provide health care to all Americans.

The richest, most powerful, most amazing nation in the world should treat its citizens who fall ill better than some broken Third World country. If we can afford to try to rebuild Afghanistan with little hope of success, then arguing about paying for Americans to have health coverage seems petty.

Yet no topic has gotten more ink during the health-care debate than cost.

Just like the Iraq war debate where everyone was up in arms about how it was going to cost us billions of dollars a year. . . . Oh, wait — that never happened.

Obviously we must consider the cost, but whether a bill is deficit neutral should not be the sole question. We do not make being deficit neutral a requirement with most government spending. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not deficit-neutral. Conservatives ignored Congressional Budget Office estimates when they backed the Iraq war. We should not be emphasizing their reports so much with regards to health care reform.

If we justified the wars because of the belief that American lives were at stake, an even stronger argument can be made that lives are at stake if we continue to have large numbers of Americans who are uninsured or underinsured:

The nonpartisan Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, estimated in 2002 — when fewer Americans were uninsured than are today — that 18,000 adults age 25-64 died in 2000 because they were uninsured. Based on the IOM’s methodology and later Census Bureau estimates of insurance coverage, the Urban Institute finds that from 2000 to 2006, 137,000 people died due to lack of health insurance — 22,000 in 2006 alone.

A Harvard study published in the November issue of Archives of Surgery found that uninsured patients with traumatic injuries (like car crashes, falls and gunshot wounds) were almost twice as likely to die in the hospital as similarly injured patients with health insurance.

Elmer Huerta, oncologist and the president of the American Cancer Society, says the uninsured are twice as likely as the insured to have advanced cancer when they first see a doctor. And if you don’t catch cancer early, things rarely turn out well.

Sometimes government spending is a waste of money. Other times the money spent might be better spent in other ways. Expanding health care coverage, and guaranteeing that those who are insured will not lose their coverage, is a positive benefit, and it even saves lives. Rather than looking at how cheaply we can provide health care reform, this is one area where it actually makes sense to spend a little money.

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