Don't Let Debate Over Money Destroy Health Care Reform



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.

Why? Because the people who supported the war -- at the time the majority of Americans and Congress members -- believed that our very lives were at risk and that invading Iraq was imperative to protecting American lives.

Anyone suggesting that we should consider costs is met with complete derision. Cost doesn't matter when Ameri can lives are at stake, was the mantra.

I actually agree with that sentiment. I just didn't agree that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to America.

But now there is extensive empirical evidence that tens of thousands of Americans lose their lives each year from lack of health insurance -- yet all we hear is whining about the cost.

You think I'm exaggerating?

The non-partisan 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.

The Bush administration felt no compunction about brushing off the rare inquiries about the potential expense of the Iraq war with vague comments about Iraqi oil revenues covering the cost. Instead of getting mired in a losing argument, it focused on the big picture: Americans will die if we don't do something about Saddam.

Kirsten Powers is a New York Post columnist and Fox News analyst. To continue reading her column, click here.