Health Care Law Will Save Lives

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today chaired a hearing on the deadly consequences and “invisible plague” that would occur if congressional Republicans are allowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“How many people will die if the Affordable Care Act is repealed?” Sanders asked at the outset of the hearing. He cited a Harvard study that found as many as 45,000 Americans die each year because they don’t get to a doctor in time. Dying for Coverage, a study by Families USA, conservatively estimated that more than 26,000 people between the ages of 25 and 64 died prematurely due to a lack of health coverage in 2010.

The health care law that Republicans want to repeal would extend insurance to 14 million Americans next year. The number of those newly insured under Obamacare could reach 25 million in a decade. 

While millions of Americans have begun to sign up for insurance through exchanges that opened on Oct. 1, House Republicans have forced much of the federal government to shut down this month in their effort to undo the law. Repealing the law, Sanders said, would be “passing a death sentence for many of our fellow Americans.”

The forum Sanders held in the Senate health committee hearing room featured what Sanders called “moving testimony” by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). 

As a 29-year-old father of two, King was diagnosed during a routine checkup with malignant melanoma, a deadly form of cancer that is treatable if detected early enough. The surgery he underwent nearly 40 years ago was successful and less expensive than radiation and other treatments that probably would have failed if the cancer had advanced, King said. “There isn’t the slightest doubt that if I didn’t have that coverage I would not be here today,” he added. 

King called it “pure luck” that he had an insurance policy that offered free annual checkups. He said he often thinks of those who lack coverage and died from the same disease. “I’ve had a hard time wrestling with, ‘Why me?’ ” he said.

The news media has not focused attention on the number of Americans who die because they lack insurance. If the deaths all happened at once in one town, it would be like wiping Augusta, Maine, off the map, King said. Sanders recalled something he once heard from a doctor in Newport, Vt. about a logger who died of what the newspaper obituary called heart disease. In fact, the doctor told Sanders, the man “died from lack of health insurance.” He was a victim, Sanders added, of “an invisible plague.”

Ethan Rome, executive director of the national health care coalition Health Care for America Now, made the same point this way. “We do everything we can as a society to prevent the 16,000 homicides that occur every year in our country. The number of people who suffer premature deaths because they don't have health care is nearly three times that number. When the Republicans try to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act, they are effectively trying to sentence 45,000 Americans a year to die prematurely for lack of health insurance in the wealthiest country with the best medical care on earth. This is beneath us as a nation.”