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Friday, March 5, 2010

American lives are on the line

Kate Blocher

Staff Writer

The fight over health reform has reached a fevered pitch, but between all the arguing over process and the lies and distortions that have been thrown around by the opposition, the true meaning of reform seems to have been lost: People's lives are at stake.

Families USA has released a new report, Lives on the Line: The Deadly Consequences of Delaying Health Reform, which examines the consequences of Congress failing to act on health reform not only in the future, but also the negative impact past inaction has had on the lives of growing number of people who lack insurance coverage.

In 1994, the number of uninsured was 40 million. Today, as a result of Congress's past inaction, that number has soared to nearly 50 million. Looking forward, without reform that number will grow by an estimated 1 million a year. But just looking at the number of uninsured does not give a true picture of what it means to lack health insurance coverage.

Those who are uninsured are more likely to be burdened with medical debt and unable to afford the cost of care. As a result, many forgo routine preventive care or worse, when they're sick, they may choose not to be treated at all. What does this all mean? Thousands of Americans are dying prematurely. The numbers are staggering: Since the end of 1994, more than 294,000 American adults (25-64 years old) died prematurely due to a lack of health coverage. And it will only get worse. If Congress fails to act now, a projected 275,000 Americans will lose their lives by 2019 due to a lack of coverage.

Every day in 2010, approximately 68 non-elderly Americans died too soon because they lacked health coverage. These are people who died because they couldn't get preventive care and were diagnosed with an illness too late to treat, or who could have treated their illness but due to their lack of coverage, simply couldn't afford proper treatment. That is reprehensible, and shouldn't be happening in the wealthiest nation in the world. What's worse, if Congress fails to act now, that number will only continue to grow, and by 2019, 84 people will die prematurely every day because they do not have health coverage.

The numbers alone should be enough to shock Congress into action. However, the real tragedy is that these are not just statistics; they represent someone's mother, father, sister, cousin. These are real people being harmed by Congress's inability to see past the politics and do what's right for the American people.

We can no longer wait. Delaying action on health reform will have deadly consequences. The time to act on health reform is now; no one else should have to die.