Opinion: Campaign 2012: Speaking of health insurance, life and death ...

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Rick Santorum, meet Spike Dolomite Ward, a Los Angeles nonprofit worker who wrote in Tuesday’s Op-Ed page of her fight against third-stage breast cancer as an uninsured patient saved by President Obama’s healthcare reform program. Ward writes of her descent into uninsured status:

With the recession, both of our businesses took a huge hit -- my husband’s income was cut in half, and the foundations that had supported my small nonprofit were going through their own tough times. We had to start using a home equity line of credit to pay for our health insurance premiums (which by that point cost as much as our monthly mortgage). When the bank capped our home equity line, we were forced to cash in my husband’s IRA. The time finally came when we had to make a choice between paying our mortgage or paying for health insurance. We chose to keep our house. We made a nerve-racking gamble, and we lost.


To which Republican president hopeful Santorum would probably reply: bad choice, it’s your fault. At a campaign event in Iowa on Monday, the former Pennsylvania senator filled the GOP’s Herman-shaped hole by blaming those who die for lack of healthcare coverage on the dead. According to ABC News:

Santorum also had a tense moment when a student asked him about healthcare and the Christian responsibility of caring for the poor. The student said he didn’t ‘think God appreciates the fact that we have 50,000 to 100,000 uninsured Americans dying due to a lack of healthcare every year,’ citing a 2009 study out of Harvard University. ‘Dying?’ Santorum answered before going back and forth about the validity of the study. ‘The answer is not what can we do to prevent deaths because of a lack of health insurance. There’s -- I reject that number completely, that people die in America because of lack of health insurance,’ Santorum said to a crowd of 100. ‘People die in America because people die in America. And people make poor decisions with respect to their health and their healthcare. And they don’t go to the emergency room or they don’t go to the doctor when they need to,’ he said. ‘And it’s not the fault of the government for not providing some sort of universal benefit.’

Santorum’s wrong -- that’s been shown. Though multiple studies may disagree on how many Americans die for lack of coverage, they all underscore the point that having little or no access to care kills people -- thousands of them. The scale of the problem suggests it’s systemic.

But politically, you have to wonder what calculus guides Republicans like Santorum who refuse to show any empathy to the economically unlucky. These are the candidates, after all, trying to convince voters they’d be better than Obama at creating millions of jobs for idled Americans and expanding access to healthcare. In other words, there was a way for Santorum to answer the question using off-the-shelf conservative ideology (say, how forcing people to buy insurance doesn’t necessarily do anything to control ballooning costs, the real barrier to healthcare access) without sounding so insensitive to people such as Ward.


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-- Paul Thornton