New study finds 45,000 Americans die each year for lack of health care...
By Ernest A. Canning on 9/18/2009, 7:31pm PT  

Guest editorial by Ernest A. Canning

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi

In "ObamaCare: Right Diagnosis, Wrong Prescription" I noted that it was virtually impossible to mount an honest defense of the current U.S. health care system. Doing so would amount to suggesting that the obscene wealth of a few health care insurance company CEOs and their Wall Street investors has a greater social value than the lives of 18,000 of our fellow citizens whom the current system annually sentences to death simply because they are too poor to purchase insurance coverage.

Today, as I mulled over the legislative obscenity that Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and a former vice president of WellPoint spent months preparing --- an insurance carrier wish-list that contains no public option, no means for controlling costs or abuse; a measure that does not merely protect but expands the already obscene wealth of the few by mandating that every citizen purchase insurance, with massive subsidies flowing into carrier coffers --- I learned that I was wrong...

The 18,000 figure I relied upon was based on a now outdated 2002 study performed by the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine. Today, there is a new Harvard University study which has been released by the American Journal of Public Health. Our corrupt and dysfunctional system does not sentence a mere 18,000 Americans to death each year because they can't afford coverage. Our system kills close to 45,000 each year due to lack of coverage --- 45,000 in addition to the still uncounted numbers who die when carriers refuse to authorize vital procedures.

To fully appreciate the enormity of that number, consider: Direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam commenced when President Kennedy sent several thousand advisers in 1963. It ended twelve (12) years later when Saigon fell in 1975. During that twelve year span a total of 58,000 American service personnel lost their lives.

At current rates, 540,000 Americans will die over the next 12 years simply because they can't afford insurance.

I'd ask, "enough of a trigger, Mr. President?" But the truth is, as forcefully noted by Dr. Stephanie Woolhandler, a Harvard University Professor involved in the latest study, even the so-called "public option" would not come close to resolving the crisis in American health care. Single-payer (Medicare for All) is the only solution.

Where I depart from Dr. Woolhandler is in her faith that a large enough number of e-mails and calls can pressure Congress to do the right thing.

At this point the democracy deficit is so great that there appears to be only two ways the super majority of Americans who desire a single-payer system may be able to effectuate meaningful change. One would be a massive civil disobedience campaign at levels used by Ghandi to bring the British empire to its knees, perhaps on the scale of a national general strike. The other, also entailing direct, non-violent action, would be for progressives both inside and outside the Democratic Party to come together to jointly target each corporate sell out in Congress for replacement.

No doubt, the enormity of either approach is daunting, but, as Howard Zinn observed in A Power Governments Cannot Suppress:

There is a basic weakness in governments, however massive their armies, however vast their wealth, however they control images and information, because their power depends on the obedience of citizens...When the citizens begin to suspect they have been deceived and withdraw their support, government loses its legitimacy and its power.

I would venture that the Founding Fathers of this nation would find the notion of a government willing to sacrifice the lives of so many to secure the wealth of so few as contrary to the very principles upon which they fought the American Revolution.

The Declaration of Independence does not merely describe rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as "inalienable," but adds:

That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

As daunting as the task may be, we owe it to those who came before us and to our posterity to finally say, enough! We, the people, must find a way break corporate America's current stranglehold over the legislative process. Our political elites must come to realize that we will neither support nor obey a leadership that would sacrifice our very lives to satisfy the greed of the privileged few. If they will not, they must step aside. Such is the guiding principles of our American democracy.

* * *

The 9/18/09 'Democracy Now!' interview of Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, professor of medicine at Harvard University and a co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, follows below...


Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).

Share article...