Maybe I should leave it alone. Maybe I should just let Rick Santorum enjoy the 15 minutes of fame that comes with getting 30,000 Republicans to vote for you. (Less than one-hundredth of one percent of the U.S. population, by the way.)
But there is something that Rick Santorum said last month that really bothers me. And I’m going to tell you what it is.
On December 5, Santorum was talking to a group of about 100 students at Dordt College, a small Christian college in Iowa. A student referred to a 2009 Harvard study showing that 44,000 Americans die each year because they don’t have health coverage. The student then asked Santorum what that meant for the Christian responsibility of caring for the poor. Specifically, the student questioned whether “God appreciates the fact” that all those Americans die each year for lack of healthcare.
Wake up, Rick.
The student was referring to the same study that I publicized on the Floor of the House two weeks after it was published in the American Journal of Public Health. Here it is. It documents that 44,789 Americans die each year because they have no health insurance. In fact, if you take two Americans who are physically identical – same age, same gender, same race, same weight, same smoking history – and one of them has health insurance and one does not, then the one without health insurance is 40% more likely to die each year.
Here is a link to my speech on this, entitled “I Apologize to the Dead and Their Families.”
I remember the same response from right-wingers then as we hear from Santorum today – anyone can go to an emergency room. I ask them to show me an emergency room that will provide chemotherapy to a cancer victim. There isn’t one.
But to answer that challenge, I started a website called www.NamesOfTheDead.com. I invited surviving family and friends to tell me about people whom they had loved and lost, because they had no health coverage. And they did – thousands of them. I read some of their stories on the House Floor.
Then I gave a speech identifying how many people died each year for lack of health care in each district represented by a Republican healthcare opponent. The Republicans interrupted that speech for two hours, until the House Parliamentarian told them that they had to let me continue. A reporter who has covered Capitol Hill for more than 25 years told me that that kind of interruption had never happened before.
But Rick Santorum apparently never got the memo. He thinks that no one in America ever dies because he has no health care.
Why does Santorum think that? Because he has to. He has to engage in flat denial of the reality that 50 million Americans – one out of every six of us – face each day. Because to face that reality would mean that Santorum would have to face the brutality, the swinishness, the cruelty and the savagery of the policies that he so enthusiastically espouses.
For God’s sake – every single other industrialized country in the entire world has universal health care. Why can’t we? How many more people have to die? How many more sacrifices on the altar of Almighty Greed?
Any health care system that denies necessary care on the basis of wealth is evil. It doesn’t matter how you micromanage it, or tinker with it. It’s evil.
When Justice Harry Blackmun began voting against death in every death penalty case, he gave this simple and eloquent explanation: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”
We need to reach the same kind of realization in health care. Forget about the tinkering. This is America, not Myanmar. People who are sick need to be able to see a doctor. Because we are human beings, not cattle. End of story.
Are you listening, Rick Santorum?
P.S. To the tens of thousands of us who helped our campaign during 2011, thank you. From my heart, thank you.