The Health Insurance Disaster

I have a theory. And that theory is that a huge percentage of the deaths and misery connected with Katrina are directly attributable to the health-care system in the US.

In a nutshell: lack of healthcare keeps the poor in poverty, because if you’re already poor and you can’t afford to fix your teeth or medication for your depression or diabetes, it makes it very hard to find a job and keep it. At least not a good job. So, by that logic alone, many of the poor around the Gulf were even more poor and couldn’t afford transportation or food or lodging to get out of the area.

But as I watched footage all weekend of evacuees, it seemed like every shot contained someone walking with a cane or walker, or breathing from an oxygen tank, or in a wheelchair, or barely able to get around. I heard stories of people who stayed because they had relatives living in their homes who couldn’t get around. I heard reports of people who didn’t have the medications they needed for various ailments, and therefore died or got sicker. I heard doctors on the scene talking about the astonishing amount of “pre-existing conditions” that people arrived with, things that the storm didn’t cause but that got much worse because of the conditions, and the fact that they were never treated properly to begin with.

I wonder how many of the dead (not to mention the wrecked and traumatized lives of so many living) are the result of having a city where a third of the population is under the government’s poverty line (which is pretty conservative… people over the poverty line still barely scrape by), who couldn’t get out because even if they wanted to walk miles without an automobile to reach the Superdome (yeah, a real pleasure palace that was), they couldn’t trust their bodies to get them that far, or they couldn’t carry their loved ones to safety?

This article by Malcolm Gladwell summarizes perhaps better than anything I’ve ever read precisely what the problem with the US health care system is. I was ambivalent about it before, I’ll admit. But I feel angry, and galvanized now.

Here’s a chunk of the article, and a link:
The New Yorker: PRINTABLES

The issue about what to do with the health-care system is sometimes presented as a technical argument about the merits of one kind of coverage over another or as an ideological argument about socialized versus private medicine. It is, instead, about a few very simple questions. Do you think that this kind of redistribution of risk is a good idea? Do you think that people whose genes predispose them to depression or cancer, or whose poverty complicates asthma or diabetes, or who get hit by a drunk driver, or who have to keep their mouths closed because their teeth are rotting ought to bear a greater share of the costs of their health care than those of us who are lucky enough to escape such misfortunes? In the rest of the industrialized world, it is assumed that the more equally and widely the burdens of illness are shared, the better off the population as a whole is likely to be. The reason the United States has forty-five million people without coverage is that its health-care policy is in the hands of people who disagree, and who regard health insurance not as the solution but as the problem.

After listening to the precious platitudes oozing from the mouths of the ultra-entitled when talking about the disenfranchised victims of this disaster (both Katrina and the deeply incompetent response by authorities), such as the much-quoted comments by the various Bush clan members, I’m suddenly ready to fight for a political change in this country. People need to understand that the poor are a part of our society, too, and that those of us with so much wouldn’t have what we have without the rest of the society bending over and letting us build it on their backs.

Author: Andrew Hinton

I use information to architect better places for humans. More at