Monday, October 25, 2010

Rescue in Chile.

President of Chile Sebastian Pineira and the engineers he chose to rescue the trapped miners are justly proud of their accomplishment. But they spent $20 million to save the lives of 33 men. In Chile, a country where almost twenty percent of the population is poor, where young men and women have an unemployment rate of almost 25%, how many lives could have been saved with those same $20million?

The question is not to criticize the decision of Chile's president but to remind us that decisions to spend money or to withhold it may have serious consequences for citizens. It may mean life or death to some.

Consider the sad story of the Cranicks of Obion County, Tennessee. In this rural section of Tennessee, Gene Cranick’s home caught on fire. As the Cranicks fled their home, their neighbors alerted the county’s firefighters, who soon arrived at the scene. Yet when the firefighters arrived, they refused to put out the fire, saying that the family failed to pay the annual subscription fee to the fire department. Because the county’s fire services for rural residences is based on household subscription fees, the firefighters, stood by and watched as the home burned to the ground

Mayor Crocker when asked about the city’s policy, likened the policy to buying auto insurance. He said that, after all, “if an auto owner allowed their vehicle insurance to lapse, they would not expect an insurance company to pay for an unprotected vehicle after it was wrecked.”
The mayor might also have liked this policy to our prevailing policy concerning health insurance. Individuals who do not get health insurance as a benefit at work, need to buy insurance. If they are unable to do so, they cannot see a doctor when sick and cannot procure the medicines prescribed in the Hospital Emergency Room. Thus Mayor Crocker might have said “if people do not buy health insurance, they would not expect their doctors or drug bills to be paid by the insurance company.”

The decisions to spend money or to withhold it made by government agencies, or by taxpayers, have serious effects on the lives of individuals. The Cranicks lost their house because the people of Obion County, Tennessee opted not to pay their fire protection from tax money. The 33 Chilean miners are alive because their country was willing to spend $ 20 million to rescue them. They almost died because the company they work for was unwilling to spend the money needed to make the mine a safe place to work in.

How many people lead impaired lives or die prematurely because we do not provide proper health care for them? An article in the Journal of Public Health reports:

In a new study, researchers estimate that 45,000 deaths per year in the U.S. are associated with not having health insurance. Data came from about 9,000 people aged 17 to 64 who took part in a government health survey between 1988 and 1994. They were followed through 2000. During those years, about 3% of the participants died. People without any health insurance were 40% more likely than people with health insurance to die during the years studied, regardless of factors such as age, gender, race, income, education, health status, BMI (body mass index), exercisesmoking, and alcohol use.” ( healthy-aging/news/20090917/no-health-insurance-higher-death-risk).

As the country once again debates taxes, citizens need to remember the seriousness of that debate. It is not just about ideology, about “small government” or “self-reliance” or about “defending the constitution.” It is not just about you and me having a bit more disposable income when taxes are reduced. It is about the lives of fellow Americans and sometimes it is a question of life and death.