Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mourdock Says Employers Should Be Able to Deny Insurance If You Happen to Have Caner


Backed by SuperPac money as well as the Republican and Tea Parties, Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock hopes to shrink government, liberate the marketplace, and remove the heavy foot of the federal government from the necks of states. Mourdock, apparently unaware of the word statesmanship or its meaning, has vowed to stand strong, declaring, “I’m just against compromise, we need to stop it, it’s weak, it’s foolish, our views are irreconcilable, we have to force the American people to choose which one of us is right” (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/ 0512/76321.html). Rather than representing his constituents, Mourdock suggests he has the correct course for his state, its people, and the nation. He reveals that his mind is not open to other points of view or to diplomacy and collaboration. This declaration alone should disqualify him for office.

However, Candidate Mourdock has also stated that he believes employers should be allowed to deny insurance coverage to people with cancer, thereby saving the employers money and opening the door for real death panels. Cancer patients will be cut from the herd, and this is a notion that more people than Mourdock espouse.

In September, 2011, CNN debate moderator, Wolf Blitzer, asked Texas Representative and presidential candidate Ron Paul what should be done about young men who do not purchase health insurance, then later suffer a catastrophic incident ending in a coma. Paul contended that the young man should not be compelled to buy health insurance even though something awful and awfully expensive may happen. Blitzer then asked if the young man should be allowed to die or . . . . The crowd answered before Paul could. They shouted “Yes!”

Now Mourdock weighs in with the supremacy of individual choice and the sovereignty of the marketplace, suggesting that employers should be able to draw the line, beginning with cancer. After all, treating the disease is a very expensive prospect, and those who beat it once may have to fight again another day. What shall we as a nation do then? Condemn anyone afflicted with cancer to something not cruel or unusual, but swift? Shall we wish them “good luck” as we usher them out the door, perhaps giving them a typed list of charitable organizations instead of a farewell handshake? And where will be draw the line?

Consider the following data as you contemplate answers to those questions:

•    We know that early screening saves lives. In fact, the cancer rates, once climbing annually, have leveled off, due in large part to screening and a reduction in exposure to risk factors; e.g., smoking, asbestos, pesticides, and organic solvents. (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/risk/cancer/cancer-trends.html)
•    The mortality rates have also leveled off as a result of improved treatment, but in 2009, more than 1/2 million (567,629) of us died with cancer the cause.
•    “About 27% of individuals 65 and older had only Medicare coverage. Almost 16 million people were unable to get needed medical care due to cost,” according to data from 2007. (http://www.winningcancer.com/txt/costs-of-cancer-treatments)
•    In 2006, the average monthly cost for a cancer treatment drug was $1,600, and that cost has not leveled off or decreased; it has increased. (U. S. Census Bureau, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009)

These figures cited above do not exclude children, many of whom survive because childhood cancers are more treatable today than ever before. Would Candidate Mourdock rescue them because they are the future of the nation? Would he endorse a wait and see approach; perhaps allowing children access to health insurance if they survive ten years without relapsing? Or would he propose poverty all their days because they and their families cannot pay for treatment from their monthly income? Does Candidate Mourdock prefer to send children for public assistance? And if he does, what level of care should taxpayers provide?

In addition to the moral and ethical issues implied by the questions above, let's consider just how easily an individual can pay out of pocket for health care, especially cancer treatment.

Using information for 2009, the U. S. Census Bureau lists the average income in this nation as $49, 777. (http:// www.ehow.com/info_8108233_percentages-taxes-taken-out-paychecks.html)

o    Divide the annual average household annual income of $49,777 by 12 months to determine the monthly gross amount: $4,148.08.
o    Subtract from the monthly gross amount what employees contribute to Medicare: 1.45% or $60.15 ($4,148.08 - $60.15 = $4,087.93).
o    Subtract from the monthly gross amount what employees contribute to Social Security: 4.2% or $174.22 ($4,148.08 - $60.15 for Medicare and $174.22 for Social Security = $3,913.71)
o    Ignoring allowances or deductions and tax credits, subtract federal taxes: 15% or $622.21 ($4,148.08 - Medicare, Social Security & federal taxes = $3,291.15).
o    Finally, subtract average living costs, including housing, utilities, transportation, debt repayment (student loans or credit card), food, insurance (car, renters’ or homeowners’), clothing, entertainment, and savings, estimated to be approximately and conservatively 51% of the gross in 2007 ($3,291.15 - living costs or 2115.47= $1,175.68). (http://www. kiplinger.com/columns/ starting/archive/2007/st0404.htm) Note that the Kiplinger article uses $35,000 as the annual income and lists living costs that are 51% of the gross. I applied that percentage to the average American income of $49,777 to calculate living costs for this theoretical American.

The cost of health insurance and health care is not present in the monthly expenses calculation above. Thus, our theoretical American must pay for office visits, diagnostic tests, laboratory work, physicians, anesthesiologists, surgeries, hospitalizations, and medications from the meager $1,1785.68 remaining, yet the average cost of one month’s cancer medication ($1,600) exceeds what he or she has available. The patient needs an additional $424.32 just to pay for one month’s medication. And this is the plight that Candidate Mourdock finds acceptable: an American, afflicted with a deadly disease, cast out on the heap of the Untouchables, faced with the choice to accept treatment and live or to die and spare his family the suffocating debt of treating his illness.

But what costs might exist if the cancer victim chooses death? Candidate Mourdock does not appear to have considered the socio-economic costs of not treating this sample American denied health insurance for cancer. One cost is his or her children. We know that children who lose one or both parents while young are at greater risk for educational and social challenges due to grief and reduced income. In addition, Big Brothers and Sister has more applicants than mentors. Worse, the U. S. foster care, adoption agencies, and shelters are extremely limited and often deeply flawed, increasing the odds of a child becoming a drop-out. If the child drops out, he or she is more likely to become part of the prison system. Indeed one estimate of the tax burden for drops-outs, considering the high rate of incarceration, is $320-$350 billion annually. (http:// www.npr.org/2011/07/24/138653393/school-dropout-rates-adds-to-fiscal-burden)

Another cost of Candidate Mourdock’s recommendation is the burden to society in terms of its inability or refusal to care for its citizens. We decry the living conditions in countless other second and third world nations, primarily because of the rates of poverty, hunger, disease, and death, often resulting from poor living conditions and an absence of accessible health care. Yet Mourdock, like Pontius Pilate, would wash his hands of identical problems within our borders. Most first-world nations are not so inhumane or callous; they believe in shared responsibility.

Worrisome is the number of people who fall in line behind Candidate Mourdock’s rejection of the Affordable Health Care Act and espouse a Libertarian and/or Capitalist notion about health care. Some church-going folks who profess to be good Christians have said, without blush, shame, or apparent cognitive dissonance, that those who can afford health insurance and health care should have the best while those who cannot afford those “luxuries” should receive only the most basic attention, perhaps something resembling Health Care Fairs where professionals volunteer a day or a weekend to offer health screenings, dental care, and medical attention. Such gifts of time and knowledge are wonderful, but hundreds are turned away because there just isn’t enough time or medicine or advanced equipment. Still the “haves” remain cavalier while the “have nots” struggle. The "haves" remind me of Aunt Alexandra’s church group, meeting in Atticus Finch’s home to help the poor African babies while ignoring the needs of  African-Americans in her own home town (from To Kill a Mockingbird).

Finally, Candidate Mourdock does not seem to have considered how slippery the slope that he treads. If we deny coverage and care to those suffering from cancer, why shouldn’t we deny coverage to folks with heart problems and those we suspect will have heart problems? After all, heart disease kills more folks than cancer, and those who survive are often weak, unable to work.

Candidate Mourdock, why stop with diseases at all? Accidents, automobile or slips and falls at home, kill some Americans. Let’s not offer coverage to accident-prone people, including anyone who takes a drink. Alcohol is a killer, as we all know. Sure it may not kill as many as the heart under attack or cancer, but it’s a killer. Let’s avoid all risk and deny coverage.

We should also consider the citizens who love risky behaviors: mountain climbing, snow skiing, motorcycle riding, bicycling on busy boulevards, deep sea diving, parachuting, hunting, fishing . . . even tail-gating because sometimes sports crowds get out of hand. Well, I’m sure you see where this is going: some people die every year while engaged in these activities. Just in case you might be one of them, I think we better withhold coverage.

Soon, however, insurance becomes pointless. If it will not honor its contractual obligation to assist me in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, then why bother? It’s a relic that would prove unnecessary and a foolish waste of money after a basic cost-benefit analysis. But I doubt that Candidate Mourdock or insurers have thought that far ahead. I suspect Mourdock listens to employers and insurers; I doubt he’s listened to real people with cancer.

Beware Mourdock’s vision because it doesn’t seem to extend beyond November 2012, to the real effects upon real Americans, working hard to make a living, raise a family, and contribute to society. Mourdock embraces an untried ideology that benefits himself and probably his backers. Indiana would be wise not to send him to Congress. Our nation will prosper without his poorly researched and poorly thought out ideas, the very ones that he promises to uphold whether they work or not.

We are better than the Mourdocks, aren’t we? And if we’re not, shouldn’t we try to be?