Over the last few weeks, Republican Senator Jon Kyl has taken heat for several gaffes and blunders, most notably when he stated, "I don't need maternity care," inciting Arizona women to protest at his local Senate office. Now his belief that people don't "die from lack of insurance" is causing him trouble at home.
After Kyl told television host David Gregory that he doubts people die from a lack of health insurance, I received email after email from HuffPost readers in Arizona and across the country who are furious that Kyl doesn't understand the consequences of being uninsured.
Many of the emails referenced the recent Harvard study that found that 44,789 people die each year, due at least in part to a lack of health insurance. The lead author says when people can't afford to see a doctor or buy medicine, they have "a higher risk of death when compared to the privately insured, even after taking into account socio-economics, health behaviors, and baseline health."
Bob Lord, a former Arizona Congressional candidate, explains, "It's not the emergencies. It's the illnesses that are treatable when diagnosed early but become fatal when people forgo medical care
because they don't have health insurance."
The results of the study are not new. The Harvard study used more recent data to replicate several previous studies that found similar results. In 2002, the US Institute of Medicine found similar results but with smaller numbers. The methodology of the Harvard study was similar to a 1993 study that found the same results more than a decade ago. Families USA reports (PDF) that an average of 2 people die each day in Kyl's home state of Arizona from a lack of health insurance.
The responses from HuffPost readers to Kyl's statement were full of dismay and anger. Erick was incredulous, "It's his job to know. He needs to do his job. Do we have to assign him HOMEWORK? This is his JOB to read these studies."
Kyl doesn't need to read medical studies to know people die when they can't afford health care. The news is full of these stories. Just a couple of weeks ago, when the story surfaced of a Florida college student who died after delayed medical treatment because of the cost, Republican leaders focused on the initially inaccurate report of what cause her death (she did not die of swine flu as first reported), completely ignoring the real issue; the seriousness of her condition was compounded because she delayed treatment.
Toby from Phoenix was the first to suggest action, writing, "Maybe we should flood Kyl's office with copies of the Harvard report." She was the first of many who suggest mailing or emailing the Harvard report to Kyl.
Some took Kyl's statement personally. Ann wrote, "Does Senator Kyl CARE about my family?" She ended a long message by summing up the mood of everyone who wrote in: "Jon Kyl - he's just not that into you!"
Phoenix resident Shirley McAllister says she will deliver a copy of the Harvard study to Kyl's Phoenix Senate office Monday afternoon, and she's bringing her friends. Nothing arouses anger like seeing a loved one hurt by others, and that's exactly how Shirley says she feels about Kyl's statement. Based on the number of emails I received about this story, she is far from alone.
Shirley wants Senator Kyl to meet her daughter-in-law, Linnea, who is paralyzed and dying because she was unable to get health insurance a decade ago, when medical treatment would have made a difference. Linnea and her husband experienced the typical struggles of early adulthood and were unable to afford health insurance. After she suffered from a mysterious episode of numbness while pregnant, Linnea's doctors were unable to make a conclusive diagnosis but wrote in her records that she "might" have multiple sclerosis. After that, no amount of money could help her obtain health insurance.
Four years later, Linnea's husband took his own life, leaving Linnea and her daughter on their own. As a self-employed hair stylist and single parent, she continued to be denied access to health insurance and had little money to pay for medicare care. Linnea's multiple sclerosis progressed from a mild weakness in one foot until that leg could only be dragged behind her. Eventually, after she was paralyzed, she was able to get government-subsidized health care.
Today, the only thing Linnea can do on her own is eat: If someone puts food in her mouth, she can chew. Visitors must quiet themselves, bend down, and concentrate to hear to Linnea's faint voice. Linnea is dying.
"I want Kyl to know Linnea. If Linnea had health insurance during those ten years, she could have been spared this life of total dependence," Shirley wrote.
Another reader, Joe, says those with chronic illness have it especially hard. With two serious chronic illnesses, he is not insurable. He can't qualify for state or federal medicare care unless he quits his job, which he adamantly declares he will not do. He cannot afford to fill his prescriptions, and he worries about the long-term effects of not treating his illness, "It won't kill me tomorrow, ... but I probably miss more work than I should ... and maybe I won't live as long as I could."