When veterans die -- from lack of health insurance

More than 1.5 million vets don't have it, and 2,200 vets die every year because of it

Published November 11, 2009 9:12PM (EST)

It's Veterans Day, and members of both parties compete to show service members the most respect. How about passing health insurance reform?

Two Harvard researchers chose today to release a study showing that 1.5 million American veterans have no health insurance, and more than 2,200 die every year because of it. Working-poor veterans are at particular risk -- they earn too much money to qualify for certain Veterans Administration programs, but they work in jobs that don't provide insurance and they don't earn enough to buy it themselves.

"The uninsured have about a 40 percent higher risk of dying each year than otherwise comparable insured individuals," David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, told Agence France Presse. "Putting that all together you get an estimate of almost 2,300 -- 2,266 veterans who die each year from lack of health insurance." Fourteen times as many vets died for lack of health insurance than were killed in Afghanistan last year. Meanwhile, conservative Sen. Tom Coburn continues to block a needed veterans' healthcare bill because it's too expensive.

With Congress taking a break for Veterans Day, and President Obama leaving for a 10-day Asia trip, there isn't likely to be much movement in the House or Senate on healthcare reform soon. We're left with the profound disappointment of the House bill, marred by the Stupak amendment selling out women, and a less than ideal public option. The Senate isn't likely to go for the Stupak amendment, but on the other hand, the public option will have more trouble there, with Joe Lieberman (I-Aetna) promising his "conscience" will force him to filibuster any bill with the public plan. The conscience-free Lieberman is probably just feeling the pangs of a phantom "conscience," like what amputees report experiencing after they lose a limb.

MSNBC's Mark Whitaker just shared his latest reporting from White House and Senate aides, who he says are insisting Sen. Olympia Snowe's public option "trigger" proposal is still alive. Those aides, Whitaker says, are now spinning the idea that the trigger may be more progressive and more robust than the opt-out public option. That's a new one on me, and likely portends a relapse into spinelessness by the White House and Senate Democratic leaders. 

By Joan Walsh

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Healthcare Reform