Monday, October 11, 2010

Six 9/11s a Year

We've spent billions and committed what will be trillions (yes, in the plural) of dollars to the nominal cause of responding to the attacks of 9/11/2001. We've been so serious about this that in addition to the wealth committed, we've also sacrificed the lives of thousands (the final tally's not in, but more than died on 9/11) of US service people, and the brains, minds, and bodies of tens of thousands more who came home (or will come home) permanently maimed.

It's dismal news that the analysts tell us that it will be for naught, that the way we've spent American lives and treasure has actually made the world more unsafe and unstable, and made the US more a target than it was. But let's set that aside for now. What's not debatable is the cost, in dollars and flesh.

So what would we do about something that's causing as many unnecessary, innocent deaths in the US, every year? What about something causing six times as many deaths--every year?

Would we commit to trillions on trillions of dollars, risk thousands of lives, and talk about a generational effort (it's not a conflict, so that word has to be modified...) to resolve it, once and for all?

The Institutes of Medicine of the National Academies released a report six years ago that observes,
"Lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the United States. "
About 8,000 of those are infant deaths, the result of the shameful infant mortality rate that the US suffers from. And that's directly attributable to a lack of prenatal health care. That's the estimate--and observation--of the Centers for Disease Control.

We do very well--essentially as well as anywhere in the world--with caring for premature babies. But because of our health care system, we have many more premature babies per 100,000 births than other developed nations. And that's attributable to our health care system's failure to care for pregnant women.

Most distressing in all this is that the picture's not getting better. It's getting worse.
In 1950, the United States was fifth among the leading industrialized nations with respect to female life expectancy at birth, surpassed only by Sweden, Norway, Australia, and the Netherlands.
That's from HealthAffairs. The same source observes
The last available measure of female life expectancy had the United States ranked at forty-sixth in the world. As of September 23, 2010, the United States ranked forty-ninth for both male and female life expectancy combined.

All this while being the "leader" of the free world.

It's not for lack of funding. We spend more, and more per capita, than any other nation. Since 1970, our spending has increased at a rate significantly above what any other nation's increase in health care costs have been. But our results... have been abysmal. Spending more and more, we cover a smaller and smaller percentage of our population. Life expectancy has fallen a long way from the top tier of nations, and more and more American infants are put at risk of early death.


And we do almost nothing about it.