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If I were running communications at the White House, I would have the president get right out in front of the American people and explain why we need health-care reform. I would have him explain why we need it now and the costs in dollar and human terms if we don’t do it. He has made an address to Congress, but he hasn’t said what happens to our country if we don’t have health care or what it costs us as a country to do nothing.
I saw the repercussions of doing nothing firsthand when I spent 15 years working in mental health and addictions. It is true that there is some end-of-the-line help for people, such as local mental-health clinics, state hospitals or locally funded versions of a state hospital, but these services are overwhelmed and are often the first to get cuts. Medications are often available for people on Medicaid, but many people do not qualify, as they are the working poor without health insurance.
In just this one area of health care, it is penny wise and pound foolish to not provide services as depression, anxiety and psychotic illness can slide out of control quickly if left untreated. Early intervention is the key to cost control later. Having worked in just this one aspect of health care, I saw what happens to untreated illness. Health professionals have screamed prevention and early intervention from the rooftops, and no one paid attention. But this week a study was released showing mortality increases for those that do not have health insurance.
The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health by Harvard University researchers and showed that Americans without health insurance were significantly more likely to die.
Earlier studies completed in the early ’90s showed a 25 percent increase in chance of dying without health insurance. The new study backed up that earlier research but showed that the risk of dying was actually 2.5 times higher than the earlier study found. This works out to a 40 percent higher likelihood of death without insurance.
There has been supporting data from other studies such as the congressionally funded Institute of Medicine, or IOM. This week’s study found that as many as 42,686 people died in one year because of lack of health insurance. That is almost 10 times the deaths experienced in the war in Iraq and close to what we lost in Vietnam. It is way too many mothers, fathers and productive Americans lost for no reason other than money.
What is astounding is that these statistics do not even consider the people unable to work because of illness or who need care from family members who then have to take off of work. This is not rocket science. How many people do you know who put off going to the doctor when they are ill because of costs? All of us know people who are facing those decisions.
Early intervention is the key in so many diseases, and President Obama’s plan allows 90 percent of people who do not have health insurance to be able to obtain it. It would allow people to get health care and tests that make a difference. Middle-aged people would be able to get a colonoscopy. Those with high cholesterol would be able to find out if drugs would help, and people with diabetes would be able to stem the process of the disease before they lost limbs.
I am on the board of Lighthouse International, a non-profit dedicated to helping people with vision disabilities. We screened more than 100 people in the talk-radio industry during one of Talkers Magazine’s conferences. Almost one-third of the attendees had some kind of previously undiagnosed eye problem, such as a retinal tear or macular degeneration. Those are costly diseases, as many people can’t work if they can’t see. Lack of ability to pay means people won’t seek out care and get treatment while they still can.
Now is the time to make the facts and figures known to every American about the cost of failing to enact health-care reform. It costs in productivity, and if we are going to compete on the world stage, we must have what other developed westernized countries have: health care.