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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

February 4th, 2011 4:58 PM

Super Bowl Commercial for the Dead Patients

I’d love to see a Super Bowl commercial Sunday that stated the facts about how many Americans will die on Super Bowl Sunday this year because they didn’t have access to the healthcare they needed. 123 will die on Sunday, and perhaps a photo of one of the dead every 12 minutes or so during a commercial break would be instructive. That’s how often someone dies in the country because he or she couldn’t get care.

The Dead Patient’s Society grows larger by 123 every single day in America. There is no time off for major sporting events.

Every 12 minutes while we jam in nachos and giggle about the most creative Super Bowl ads, someone will die who could have – should have – been saved. That dead person didn’t have the cash or the credit or the insurance approval to get the care he or she might have accessed in order to survive to see the Packers and the Steelers play.

The patients die while doctors and hospitals hold at arm’s length the treatments that could have saved lives. I don’t understand how they do it. I have never understood how the people or provider organizations that take oaths to care for the sick and relieve suffering can get a phone call from an insurance company and then turn their backs when payment is denied. Or how they see a shivering, hurting person and turn them away when care is so easily available. Too bad we cannot run the sick to the field on Super Bowl Sunday and have teams of medical experts rush to treat them. But then they are not star football players, are they?

Oh, I understand the evil empire of the for-profit insurance giants and that providers cannot give away healthcare lest they go broke. I do get that. But, still, I do not know how neighbors turn their backs on neighbors and doctors turn their backs on patients. I couldn’t do it. Maybe I am weak in that regard. I always wonder why we don’t see and hear more about the dear doctors and providers who defy the financial death warrants and treat people in spite of the financial risk. I know there are some. We just don’t hear about them too much. Some doctors say they have to be careful lest their hospitals and other doctors punish them for speaking or acting outside the profit-making fold.

The death every 12 minutes of a sick or injured American won’t make the news on Super Bowl Sunday. It didn’t make the news today, and it won’t make the news tomorrow. We care an awful lot more about the big game than the end game for patients in America.

The membership ranks grow daily from all walks of life, all ages and from all across the nation. While a people’s revolution unfolds in Egypt – and perhaps beyond – American patients are staging their own silent and deadly revolt. Slow, wasting, preventable deaths don’t make the evening news in America or elsewhere.

The 123 Americans who died today without access to life-saving treatment are part of the acceptable cost of doing business for the American healthcare industry – and they are part of the acceptable political casualties for those elected to govern for the common good who just don’t quite do that.

Even our loved ones and neighbors are sometimes immune to the ravages of patients’ realities. Obedient up until the very brutal end, patients and families often don’t know how to fight back against the hospitals and providers who won’t supply the care – or they are mislead into thinking there is nothing that can be done, and the insurance companies that deny the treatment suffer only minimal challenges to their control over life and death decisions for thousands and thousands of people every month.

Monday morning, the big game will be over. Either the Steelers or the Packers will be the champions, and we’ll look forward to next year’s football season and the chance that our favorite team might make it to the big game. For me, it’s the Broncos, so chances aren’t so great.

But for hundreds of Americans, there will be no new season. The rest of us will have been very distracted by all the energy surrounding the game and the hype.

If we had a progressively financed, single-standard of high quality care for all in America, more Americans could enjoy life more fully and be more a part of the communities in which they live. I’m betting many of those who will die this Super Bowl weekend would rather have been cheese-heads than deadheads. But I am also betting most Americans will not be thinking too much about that while such a large and showy distraction allows so many of us to look away.

But if there were a face every 12 minutes on one of those super important, Super Bowl commercial breaks, and a brief line or two about why that person just died and how simple it might have been to save that life, maybe we’d be forced to face our super bowl of suffering. And maybe if we posted a price tag for that live-saving treatment denied, we’d be able to compare the cost for advertising time during the Super Bowl compared to cost to save a life. At least we ought to know honestly what our values really are – saving human life just really isn’t one of our super-priorities.

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