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Thursday, November 12, 2009

At least they have a line to wait in: A death from lack of insurance

Sue was a 31-year-old patient of Ob-Gyn Dr. Linda Harris, in Oregon, as Nicholas Kristof writes in today's New York Times. Sue was a single mom who worked hard, sometimes two jobs at a time. Her jobs never provided health insurance, and she couldn't afford to splurge on herself to get gynecological check-ups. She went without a Pap smear for more than 12 years, though annual Pap smears are recommended. Even when she began bleeding and suffering abdominal pain, she was reluctant to see a doctor because she couldn't afford it.

She eventually sought help from a hospital's emergency room, and then a public clinic where Dr. Harris works, only to learn that she had advanced cervical cancer. Three months later, she died. Her daughter was 13.

Her death didn't have to happen. Cervical cancer has a long pre-invasive stage that can be readily detected by a Pap smear, and treated with a relatively minor procedure.

"People talk about waiting lines in Canada," Dr. Harris says, adding, "Well, at least they have a line to wait in."

As Kristof notes, national health reform would cost about as much each year as a year of our continued fighting in Afghanistan. Both purport to save lives. Viewed with the cold, hard lens of cost-effectiveness, financial prudence would clearly lead us to prefer saving the 45,000 people like Sue whose lives were lost from lack of insurance, according to a Harvard study published in September, over the very few who die from terrorist acts each year.

Advice: Share this with conservative legislators who are concerned about our government's return on its investment.

Read a much happier story about a lack of insurance. Thanks to Nicholas Kristof for the source story.

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