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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Pay or Die 

Remember the grim dawn of Bush's first term, when the new President sold his tax cuts to the American people with weepy tales of hardworking Farmer Brown, a humble tiller of the soil whose grieving heirs, when he finally keeled over in the alfalfa, would have to sell the family farm just to pay off the estate tax? "To keep farms in the family, we are going to get rid of the death tax," was Mr. Bush's eloquent formulation in March 2001. Naturally he neglected to mention that Farmer Brown was a shameless fantasy; there had never been a single case on record -- not even one -- of a farm lost to estate taxes. "Tax reform" passed anyway.

Another tragedy, a genuine one, affects millions of real American families each year. We are willing to give you sweet odds, however, that Mr. Bush will not waste a single sentence of his State of the Union address demanding immediate government action on their behalf:
If you get ill in the United States, you just might go bankrupt. A Harvard University study found that about half of all personal bankruptcies in America are caused by illness and medical bills . . . .

"Unless you're Bill Gates you're just one serious illness away from bankruptcy," said lead researcher Dr. David Himmelstein.

More than 75 percent said they were insured at the start of their illness, but 38 percent had lost coverage, at least temporarily by the time they filed for bankruptcy . . . .

Among those whose medical bills contributed to their bankruptcy, the study found out-of-pocket costs averaged $11,854. Those with cancer had average medical debts of $35,878.

The study's authors said between 1.9 million and 2.2 Americans experienced "medical bankruptcy" in 2001.

Writing in the journal Health Affairs, the researchers said, "The low rate of medical bankruptcy in Canada suggests that better medical and social insurance could greatly ameliorate this problem in the United States."
UPDATE: With characteristic boldness! and ingenuity! Bush just laid out his solution to America's healthcare woes: more privatization and "medical liability reform that will reduce healthcare costs."

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