Saturday, April 21, 2007

The disparity between coverage on school shootings and health care deaths

Over at Huffington Post, Richard Eskow talks about the disparity between the coverage of tragedies like the shooting at Virginia Tech and the average deaths of between 40 or 50 people due to lack of proper health care.

The Unseen Dead: Virginia Tech and Health Policy

My heart breaks for the 33 people who died Monday. It also breaks for the estimated 50 Americans who died on the same day as a result of inadequate health coverage. Most of them had families who loved them, too. Where is their candlelight vigil? Where are their Presidential eulogies, or their exhaustive television coverage?

Instead of receiving their moment of silence, these invisible dead face an eternity of silence.

Lack of health insurance results in the deaths of 18,000 Americans each year, according to studies compiled by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine. That equates to 49 or 50 deaths every day. As the Institute has documented, deaths result from late identification of curable cancer and other conditions, and from inadequate treatment for a range of illnesses that include renal disease and other chronic conditions.

Many of those who die as a result of inadequate health care are older, in contrast to the young lives so full of promise that were cut down this week. But not all. The United States has the worst infant mortality of any industrialized country in the world except Latvia. The shadow of death falls disproportionately on African-Americans, whose infant mortality rate is 2.5 times that of non-hispanic whites.
While I agree with Eskow that there should be more coverage on the issue of the many uninsured and the many unnecessary deaths, I think it is important to notice that grief and compassion is not a zero-sum game. Also, it is a common instinct to react more strongly to sudden spetacular losses, like those resulting from a catastrophe or terrorist act, than to
the more silent long-drawn ones. Just look at the reaction to the Tsunami, where aid poured in, while the many health and food crises around the world were ignored for the nth year. And there is also the fact that people feel more strongly about things affecting people they can (and want to) identify with.

Is it fair that this happens? No, of course not, but unfortunately it's human nature. Still, it's good to have people like Eskow there to draw our attention to the other, more silent, tragedies that can be prevented.

California is going in the right direction towards this, though there is a long way yet. Sheila Kuehl's SB 840 passed the Californian Senate Health Committee, as did it's companion bill SB 1014 (which describes the funding). Both were passed on a 6-4 vote.
The bill has a way to go, but have widespread support from many itnerest groups, including some not traditionally on the side of universal health care.

Note: For those who feel that Eskow is wrong in using the Virginia Tech shooting to draw attention to other issues, I recommend reading this piece by Lindsay Beyerstein

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