“The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine recently estimated that approximately 18,000 people in the United States die every year because they do not have health insurance. This figure is startling by any account. In local terms, it means that America is losing an entire town the size of Chapel Hill every two and a half years. To put it another way, it is as if the human losses of Sept.11, 2001, were recurring six times a year.

Yet these deaths go largely unnoticed. They are not accompanied by the collapse of colossal buildings.  There are no horrific firebursts. There is no excited television commentary. For all we know from mainstream media, these victims ‘go gentle into that good night.’ But as the presidential election approaches, it is time once again for Americans to speak out — to rage against this unnecessary ‘dying of the light.'”

I penned these words more than six years ago, while I was a visiting professor at UNC School of Law in ChapeI Hill.  They were published in the Raleigh News and Observer on November 19, 2003.  I concluded the piece with a plea:

“[P]oliticians must not be allowed to drop the ball once again on this issue. And it is the responsibility of the media to ensure that in the coming months health care remains at the forefront of the political agenda.

Urgent arguments about the right to life and the responsibility of government should not be confined to the case of a woman in a permanent vegetative state in Florida. Terri Schiavo’s case undoubtedly raises important issues. But every hour we spend discussing her case and ignoring the larger problem, two more Americans die for lack of health care.”

Six years have passed and the fate of the uninsured in the US is worse than before. Now more than 46 million Americans have no health insurance.  A study to be published in the December 2009 issue of the American Journal of Public Health now estimates that nearly 45,000 people under the age of 65 die every year for lack of health insurance.  (To read the article, click here.) Commenting on the study, Dr David Himmelstein, a professor at Harvard Medical School and one of its co-authors, observed that now someone in the US dies every 12 minutes for lack of health insurance.  When will the US Congress act to prevent these unnecessary deaths?


Last year the Rock brought Dr. Himmelstein to Penn State for the Bioethics Without Borders lecture series.  He gave a public lecture and participated in a televised panel discussion on health care reform in the United States.  To view the lecture and panel, click on these links: HIMMELSTEIN LECTURE; WPSU LOBBY TALK/PANEL DISCUSSION

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