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Putting Healthcare Before Jobs

Congress and President Obama have made it clear that their number one priority right now is pushing through a healthcare “reform” bill. If you ask me, this is a political mistake that is going to come back and bite them. Estimates of the numbers of Americans without health insurance range from 10% -20% depending on the point that is trying to be made and by whom.

Not having health insurance only really becomes a problem if you are ill, and severely or chronically ill at that. And, even then, if you have access to healthcare, the lack of insurance is irrelevant. So, we are talking about a relatively small percentage of the population at any given time.

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.

Mind you, that’s 45,000 deaths out of a U.S. population of some 300 million. In fact, this number is almost equivalent to the number of people that die every year in car accidents.

Highway fatalities account for more than 94% of all transportation deaths. There were an estimated 6,289,000 car accidents in the US in 1999. There were about 3.4 million injuries and 41,611 people killed in auto accidents in 1999. The total number of people killed in highway crashes in 2001 was 42,116, compared to 41,945 in 2000.

Yet, we don’t feel the latter is a crisis that deserves the full attention of Congress and the President. The healthcare insurance debate is a political sideshow at best. Yes, it is terrible for those who are struck with a chronic or fatal illness who do not have insurance, but it is not the the number one crisis facing America. Nor, for that matter is climate change, but I digress.

Let’s look at the reality. People with cushy, protected government jobs, or the those at the highest and lowest levels of earnings scale are not impacted by a recession, but million of middle class Americans, who incidentally vote, are impacted. After all, they are the growing number of unemployed unable to find work.

Sure, the political elite and Wall-Street-Give-Me-A-Bailout-Followed-By-Large-Bonus types like to talk about how the recession has ended, and in their insulated bubble it may have. But, for millions upon millions of Americans, not only has the recession not ended, it is still expected to worsen:

National unemployment rates remain extraordinarily high, having reached almost 10 percent. According to the Congressional Budget Office, unemployment will climb to 10.2 percent in 2010 before falling to around 9.1 percent the following year.

Within particular states, the situation is dire. In Massachusetts, unemployment rates have reached a level not seen since 1976. Michigan’s unemployment rate is at a little over 15 percent. State budgets, according to a report by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, are still devastated by rapidly declining tax revenue. According to its study, collections by states fell by 16.6 percent from April to June.

Keep in mind that every time you read about another couple of hundred thousand jobless claims, those losses very often impact, not only the individual, but the other members of their households. Consider those millions compared to the 45,000 who die because they don’t have health insurance. Now consider that the proposals in front of Congress are going to force 100% healthcare insurance coverage through punitive actions on business:

Businesses would not be required to provide health insurance under legislation being readied for Senate debate, but large firms would owe significant penalties if any worker needed government subsidies to buy coverage on their own, according to Democratic officials familiar with talks on the bill.

For firms with more than 50 employees, the fee could be as high as $750 multiplied by the total size of the work force if only a few workers needed federal aid, these officials said. That is a more stringent penalty than in a bill that recently cleared the Senate Finance Committee, which said companies should face penalties on a per-employee basis.

In other words, Congress is going to make it even more expensive to do business in the U.S. We’ll see even more jobs evaporate in order to solve a problem impacting the lives of 45,000 of Americans. Not smart.