Yes, Obamacare Critics, Health Insurance Does Make You Healthier

Michael Barone and Charles Krauthammer have some medical advice for you: Don’t get health insurance, they say. It won’t make you healthier. It’s a waste of money.

Obamacare Enrollment SurgeThey must be desperate. They don’t want to admit that they’ve run out of criticisms of Obamacare. The website is working, enrollments are surging, and millions of Americans are getting affordablehigh-quality health insurance. They couldn’t deny these facts, so they needed a new argument to discredit the law — and they found it tucked away in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In 2008, Oregon conducted an experiment. They held a random lottery. They picked 20,745 names out of a waiting list of 90,000 low-income adults who wanted to sign up for Medicaid. Of the winners, half received Medicaid, and half did not. After two years, they compared the two groups to see if the ones who had Medicaid were any better off.

Barone and Krauthammer claim that the Medicaid group did not have better health than the uninsured group, proving the futility of health insurance, but their conclusion is based on a very narrow, selective reading of the evidence.

It’s true that the individuals on Medicaid did not fare any better than their uninsured counterparts on blood tests for cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. But it’s also true that the Medicaid patients scored higher on the mental quality-of-life test, experienced significantly lower rates of depression, and reported that they felt healthier.

The Medicaid patients also experienced significantly less financial strain. They were 25 percent less likely to have an unpaid medical bill sent to a collection agency.

In other words, health insurance has significant mental and financial benefits.

In this study, the physical benefits are less clear, but that’s not surprising, given that it only lasted two years and it only measured three simple blood levels. Fortunately, other researchers have measured more than just cholesterol.

A 2008 study in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, for example, revealed that uninsured patients were significantly more likely to develop advanced-stage cancer because they didn’t receive early screening to detect it.

A year later, Harvard researchers published a study in the Annals of Surgery showing that uninsured patients who arrived at the emergency room with traumatic injuries were almost twice as likely to die in the hospital as patients with insurance, even if they had the same race, gender, age, and severity of injury. Later that year, a similar study was conducted at the Boston Children’s Hospital and published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery. It found that uninsured children were more than three times as likely to die from traumatic injuries as children with commercial insurance.

And if all that wasn’t enough to convince you, the American Journal of Public Health published a study that same year comparing the death rates of the insured and the uninsured when they had the same education, income, weight, rates of smoking and drinking, etc. They concluded that 44,789 Americans die every year simply because they don’t have health insurance.

That is the bottom line we should be talking about.

If the Oregon experiment were carried out beyond two years, the differences between the insured and the uninsured would accumulate. They found that the Medicaid patients were 70 percent more likely to visit the doctor, 20 percent more likely to have their cholesterol monitored, and for the women, 60 percent more likely to get a mammogram. Those kinds of preventive measures don’t make a huge impact in two years, but in the long run, they can mean the difference between life and death.

Health insurance is so beneficial to your health, in fact, that its effects spillover and benefit those of us around you. Studies have shown, for instance, that companies that offer health insurance are more productive because insured workers take 52 percent fewer “sick days” than their uninsured co-workers.

I have to wonder if Barone and Krauthammer have ever even met anyone on Medicaid. I wonder if they know the terrible fear that uninsured Americans feel when they get sick and they’re forced to choose between astronomical medical bills and untreated illness.

I think they should find out. If they’re so confident that health insurance doesn’t affect your health, then I would like to issue this challenge to them: Give up your own health insurance. Don’t waste another penny on it. Join the ranks of the uninsured.

If not, if they’re unwilling to follow their own advice, then they should stop giving it. They should stop spreading misinformation that can hurt millions of Americans who read their op-ed columns and who depend on the access to lifesaving medical care that only health insurance can provide.

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This op-ed was published in today’s Huffington Post. An abbreviated version was published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

What to Read on Newt Gingrich

Gingrich Urges War with Iran and Skyrocketing Oil Prices — Juan Cole

Gingrich: “We need a strategy of defeating and replacing the current Iranian regime with minimum use of force. We need a strategy…of being honest about radical Islam and designing a strategy to defeat it…

“We need a strategy in central Asia that recognizes that, frankly, if you’re Pashtun, you don’t care whether you’re in Pakistan or Afghanistan, because you have the same tribal relationships.

“But if we were serious, we could break the Iranian regime, I think, within a year, starting candidly with cutting off the gasoline supply to Iran, and then, frankly, sabotaging the only refinery they have.”

The new round of sanctions on Iran recently announced by the US, the UK and Canada have helped drive the price of Brent crude over $100 a barrel…

Oil supplies are tight, and if the US and Israel really could succeed in taking the 2.3 million barrels a day that Iran exports off the world market, on top of the Libyan reductions, it would likely put the price up to more like $200 a barrel (i.e. for Americans $6-$7 a gallon for gasoline).

The US…cannot hope to both replace Iranian production and meet increasing Asian demand with any known “all-energy” policy in the short to medium term. That is a science fiction scenario.

Iran has more than one refinery. The US doesn’t have the assets in Iran to conduct such extensive and massive “sabotage.” And, Iran could “sabotage” things right back. If he means bombing Iranian refineries from the air, that would be an act of war.

There are no [Pashtuns] in Iran or Central Asia, and Gingrich’s bizarre comments on Islam and Central Asia have nothing to do with Iran or its gasoline and petroleum production. Most post-Soviet Muslims in Central Asia are Tajiks or Turkic and are relatively secular.

As far as I can tell, Gingrich wants war with the whole Muslim world.

Newt’s War on Poor Children — Charles M. Blow

Nearly two weeks after claiming that child labor laws are “truly stupid” and implying that poor children should be put to work as janitors in their schools, he now claims…, “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.”

[But, the fact is,] three out of four poor working-aged adults — ages 18 to 64 — work.

[Most] poor children live in a household where at least one parent is employed. And even among children who live in extreme poverty…a third have at least one working parent. And even among extremely poor children who live in extremely poor areas…nearly a third live with at least one working parent.

[Even] as more Americans have fallen into poverty in recent years, the crime rate over all — and, specifically, among juveniles — has dropped.

Gingrich Culls War Hawks for His National Security Team — Ali Gharib

Gingrich announced his national security team…:

  • David Wurmser: In 2007, a U.N. official called Wurmser one of the “new crazies” who wanted to attack Iran. In 1996, Wurmser co-authored a paper…advocating the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.
  • Ilan Berman: Berman…has advocated U.S.-led regime change in Iran… [He’s] also attempted to minimize negative effects of [a military] attack and, in 2005…, said Iran is a “prime candidate” for Iraq-style pre-emption…
  • James Woolsey: Woolsey advocated for the Iraq war, supports illegal Israeli West Bank settlement construction, and now pushes a confrontational stance on Iran. In 1998, Woolsey signed onto a…letter urging the military removal of Saddam Hussein…
  • Robert “Bud” McFarlane: In 1988, McFarlane plead guilty to four counts of withholding information from Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal, in which he played a major role, even secretly travelling to Iran in the early arms-for-hostages part of the affair.

Fact Checking the Tea Party Debate: Republicans Stumble on Tax Issues — Citizens for Tax Justice

Gingrich [said] that he is “cheerfully opposed” to raising taxes by closing the sorts of corporate loopholes that benefit GE and other corporations, while also conveniently leaving out that he actually works as an advisor to GE.

Gingrich and the Destruction of Congressional Expertise — Bruce Bartlett

Gingrich said the [Congressional Budget Office] “is a reactionary socialist institution which does not believe in economic growth, does not believe in innovation and does not believe in data that it has not internally generated.”

Most policy analysts from both sides of the aisle would say the C.B.O. is one of the very few analytical institutions left in government that one can trust implicitly.

Gingrich said, “If you are serious about real health reform, you must abolish the Congressional Budget Office because it lies.”

Gingrich did everything in his power to dismantle Congressional institutions that employed people with the knowledge, training and experience to know a harebrained idea when they saw it. When he became speaker in 1995, Mr. Gingrich moved quickly to slash the budgets and staff of the House committees, which employed thousands of professionals with long and deep institutional memories.

In addition to decimating committee budgets, he also abolished two really useful Congressional agencies, the Office of Technology Assessment and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. The former brought high-level scientific expertise to bear on legislative issues and the latter gave state and local governments an important voice in Congressional deliberations.

The amount of money involved was trivial even in terms of Congress’s budget. Mr. Gingrich’s real purpose was to centralize power in the speaker’s office, which was staffed with young right-wing zealots who followed his orders without question.

Sorry, Newt. You Never Balanced the Budget — Robert S. McIntyre

In fact, the budget surpluses that we enjoyed from 1998 to 2001 had nothing to do with [Gingrich’s] balanced budget act. Instead, the surpluses stemmed from a dramatic surge in federal revenues, mainly personal income taxes.

In 1993, Bill Clinton undid some of the Reagan tax cuts for the wealthy, in a bill that every Republican in Congress opposed. In the years that followed, federal revenues shot up. By 1996, the deficit had fallen by more than half from its 1993 level.

In 1998 tax revenues continued to soar… That was enough to produce a $64 billion budget surplus. …this had nothing to do with the ’97 budget act, which, because of its tax cuts, actually reduced the 1998 surplus slightly.

How Newt Gingrich Added $16 Trillion to the National Debt — Bruce Bartlett

According to the latest Medicare trustees report, the unfunded liability of Medicare Part D is $16.1 trillion.

[Just before Congress voted on Medicare Part D], Newt Gingrich [wrote in the] Wall Street Journal: “Every conservative member of Congress should vote for this Medicare bill. […] If you are a fiscal conservative who cares about balancing the federal budget, there may be no more important vote in your career than one in support of this bill.”

The Republican Candidates’ History on Mandates — Sarah Kliff

Newt Gingrich has repeatedly supported the mandated purchase of health insurance… “I agree that all of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care,” he told “Meet the Press” earlier this year.

Newt Gingrich’s Doctoral Dissertation — Robert Paul Wolff

“Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945-1960 A Dissertation Submitted on the Sixth Day of May, 1971 to the Department of History of the Graduate School of Tulane University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Newton Leroy Gingrich.”

There is no evidence in the text that he traveled either to Belgium or to the Congo, and he seems not to have interviewed any of the principal actors, Belgian or Congolese, even though the dissertation was written only a handful of years after the departure of the Belgians from the Congo.

Colonization is seen almost entirely from the perspective of the colonial power, not from that of the indigenous population. The rule of King Leopold II, who literally owned the colony as his private property until, at his death, he willed it to Belgium, is widely understood to have been the most horrifyingly brutal colonial regime in Africa. Gingrich acknowledges this fact once in the dissertation.