Friday, September 18, 2009

Fear of Death

From (bold parts from quotes added by me):
Research released this week in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that 45,000 deaths per year in the United States are associated with the lack of health insurance. If a person is uninsured, "it means you're at mortal risk," said one of the authors, Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The researchers examined government health surveys from more than 9,000 people aged 17 to 64, taken from 1986-1994, and then followed up through 2000. They determined that the uninsured have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those with private health insurance as a result of being unable to obtain necessary medical care.

I love news stories like this. So those without insurance have a 40% higher risk of death than...100%?

I am sorry to break the news to all of you, but WE WILL ALL DIE. Remember the old saying about "death and taxes"? It is true.

With a 100% certainty of something happening, it is IMPOSSIBLE to go higher.

But let us dig a little deeper into the sob stories portrayed as examples in the article:
For years, Paul Hannum didn't have health insurance while he worked as a freelance cameraman in southern California.

One Sunday, Hannum complained of a stomachache which alarmed his pregnant fiancée, Sarah Percy. "He wasn't a complainer," she said. "He's the type of guy who, if he got a cold, he'll power through it. I never had known him to complain about anything."

Hannum thought he had a stomach flu or food poisoning from bad chicken. On Monday, his brother saw him looking ashen and urged him to go to the hospital. "He had a little girl on the way," his older brother Curtis Hannum said. "He didn't want the added burden of an ER visit to hang on their finances. He thought 'I'll just wait,' and he got worse and worse."

By the time Hannum got to the hospital and was admitted to surgery, it was too late.

Paul Hannum, 45, died on Thursday, August 3, 2006, from a ruptured appendix.

I can relate to this guy, except for one thing: I buy my own catastrophic health insurance policy. That aside, like him, I prefer toughing out little illnesses, because they usually go away. Unlike him, if I know I am sick, I won't use my finances as an excuse not to go to the ER if I have to go.

He died because he was cheap.

For 10 years, Sue Riek suffered from back pain, but couldn't afford medical care.

When a mid-life divorce left her single and without health insurance, Riek started a home-business selling make-up on eBay to support herself and her two daughters.

Riek, who lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, didn't qualify for Medicaid. And she couldn't afford a $5,000 monthly insurance premium, said her eldest daughter, Kaytee Riek.

"I don't know if she felt trapped, but it was a constant in her life -- struggling outside the health care system to exist," her daughter said.

Riek took comfort in her faith and regularly attended church. Then one Sunday, she didn't show up.

The next day, September 3, 2007, her daughter received the call telling her that her 51-year-old mother died from undiagnosed heart disease -- a condition treatable with lifestyle changes, medication and certain medical procedures.

"I feel incredibly strongly that she would still be alive if she had been able to regularly see a doctor," said her daughter.

Anyone remember Jim Fixx? He was a famous runner who died from an undiagnosed heart condition.

There is no guaranty that a doctor would have diagnosed Riek's fatal condition, and there is nothing in the story to indicate that she had any kind of history that would have led a doctor to that diagnosis.

But let us assume for a moment that she would have been diagnosed correctly. Then what? She MIGHT have lived longer (it is still possible she could have succumbed to a heart attack), but not forever.

Elizabeth Machol, 25, told her mother she felt tired. She had just moved into a new apartment in Santa Rosa, California, with her boyfriend and thought the fatigue was from the move and her cat Bert, who would keep her up at night.

Her mother, Marlena Machol told her to go to the doctor's office, but Machol was reluctant. Machol worked at a movie theater and didn't have health insurance. Her parents were still paying her medical bills from a previous condition and she was worried about the cost.

A few days after their phone conversation, Machol collapsed in the bathroom. She never regained consciousness.

One day after her 26th birthday, Machol was declared brain dead.

After signing papers to donate her organs, her parents kissed her face, held her hands and said goodbye to the daughter who had played the violin, organized her own fashion show and taught neighborhood kids how to swim. The coroner's office could not determine the cause of death.

Let me get this straight: A coroner could NOT figure out why she died, yet a doctor MIGHT have been able to if she had gone to see him while she was alive? Considering coroners can be a lot more invasive in their procedures, I find it hard to believe that a doctor would stumble on the proper diagnosis by blind luck.

Death at an early age is always a sad thing. But it provides no excuse to enslave the entire medical profession. Medicine, at it's best, may only extend life, NOT eliminate death.

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