Friday, August 14, 2009

The Real Death Panels

The Real Death Panels


By Joe Conason

Posted on Aug 13, 2009


When Republican politicians and right-wing talking

heads bemoan the fictitious 'death panels' that they

claim would arise from health care reform, they are

concealing a sinister reality from their followers. The

ugly fact is that every year we fail to reform the

existing system, that failure condemns tens of

thousands of people to die-either because they have no

insurance or because their insurance companies deny

coverage or benefits when they become ill.


The best estimate of the annual death toll among

Americans of working age due to lack of insurance or

under-insurance is at least 20,000, according to

studies conducted over the past decade by medical

researchers, and the number is almost certainly rising

as more and more people lose their coverage as costs

continue to go up.


They die primarily because they didn't have the

coverage or the money to pay doctors and thus delayed

seeking treatment until it was too late. They don't get

checkups, screenings and other preventive care. That is

why uninsured adults are far more likely to be

diagnosed with a disease, such as cancer or heart

disease, at an advanced stage, which severely reduces

their chances of survival.


This isn't news. Seven years ago, the Institute of

Medicine found that approximately 18,000 Americans had

died in 2000 because they had no insurance. Using the

same methodology combined with Census Bureau estimates

of health coverage, the Urban Institute concluded that

the incidence of death among the uninsured was

enormous. Between 2000 and 2006, the last year of that

study, the total number of dead was estimated to have

reached 137,000-a body count more than double the

number of casualties in the Vietnam War.


The Institute of Medicine also found that uninsured

adults are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely

than adults with private health insurance, and other

studies have warned that uninsured adults between the

ages of 55 and 64 are even more prone to die

prematurely. A lack of health insurance is the third-

leading cause of death for that age cohort, following

heart disease and cancer.


All those appalling figures, which are real rather than

mythical, do not include the casualties of insurance

company profiteering-namely, all the people, including

small children, who perish because of the anonymous

'death panels' that deny or delay coverage to consumers.


Perhaps the most notorious case in recent years was

that of Nataline Sarkisyan, the 17-year-old leukemia

patient whose liver transplant was held up by insurance

giant Cigna HealthCare. She died for no reason except

to protect Cigna's profit margin, but her unnecessary

and cruel demise was hardly unique.


Research by the American Medical Association found that

the nation's largest insurance companies deny somewhere

between 2 percent and 5 percent of all the claims

submitted by doctors. That rough estimate is the best

available because private insurers are not required to

reveal such statistics (although they certainly

maintain them), and the government does not collect them.


But in June, a House Energy and Commerce Committee

investigation found that three major insurance

companies-Golden Rule, Assurant and WellPoint-rescinded

the coverage of at least 20,000 people between 2003 and

2007 for minor errors, including typos, on their

paperwork; a pre-existing condition; or a family

member's medical history.


'They try to find something-anything-so they can say

that this individual was not truthful,' said Rep. Henry

Waxman, the California Democrat who oversaw the

committee probe. He warned that insurance companies

launch these nitpicking inquisitions whenever a

policyholder becomes ill with a certain kind of

condition-usually a costly and deadly one, such as

ovarian cancer or leukemia. The result is denial and

loss of coverage-and we now know that means increased

mortality for innocent people.


So, who are the members of the death panels?


You can find them among the corporate bureaucrats who

concoct excuses to deny coverage and throw the sick off

their rolls. You can find them among the politicians

and lobbyists who have stalled reform for years while

people died. You can find them among the morons who

show up to shout slogans at town halls rather than seek

solutions. And you can find them among the cable and

radio blabbers, who invent scary stories about reform

to conceal the sickening truth.


Joe Conason writes for The New York Observer.


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