Ebola and 41 million uninsured Americans

By Froma Harrop

With the first diagnosed case of the deadly Ebola virus in the United States located in Dallas, Texans are understandably alarmed. The patient just died. Gov. Rick Perry has established a task force to address the Ebola threat.

Not a bad idea but still a feeble response coming from a governor who refused to expand Medicaid in his state, leaving millions of his people outside the health care system. About 6 million Texans are now walking around without health insurance. That’s almost 1 in 4 residents — the highest rate of uninsured in the country.

Of course, those without health coverage are least likely to have a relationship with a health care professional, someone they could contact about worrisome symptoms. And because vomiting and other signs of Ebola could indicate something far less serious, these mostly low-income people might put off going to a hospital until it’s too late.

But Perry was among the large group of so-called conservative governors deeming it was more important to stick it to President Obama than to broaden health coverage in their states. Not surprisingly, the sharpest drops in the rates of the uninsured are in states that went along with the expansion. The rates remain nearly unchanged in the 23 nonparticipating states.

There was always a humanitarian reason for supporting the Affordable Care Act. Now we are seeing the self-interested reasons, which have been missing in most of the Obamacare debate. Covering all is essential to public health. Even the rich don’t enjoy divine protection from deadly infectious diseases. That the federal government is covering nearly the entire cost of the Medicaid expansion makes the excuses for not joining the program especially ugly.

And this is not just about Ebola. The flu is a communicable disease that typically kills 30,000 Americans a year, mainly the very old, the very young and the frail. Universal coverage can help contain that, as well.

The Ebola scare has overshadowed another frightening virus that has been diagnosed in hundreds of children since August — and that has just claimed the life of a 4-year-old in New Jersey. Enterovirus-68 has been found in 48 states, with significant numbers reported in Colorado, Illinois and Missouri. This respiratory illness, which has been associated with partial paralysis, spreads the same way colds do, through saliva and other bodily fluids.

Controlling these diseases requires early quarantine of those infected, and how are you going to find people who would test positive if they don’t go to a medical facility? Politicians who irresponsibly passed up an opportunity to bring such health services to their people are currently grasping at useless proposals.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal thinks the answer is to “stop accepting flights from countries that are Ebola stricken.” But what about the two nurses in Madrid who tested positive for the virus after treating a Spanish priest. The priest and one of the nurses have already died of the disease.

Do we stop accepting flights from Spain, which has a pretty good health care system, of course covering everyone? Not unexpectedly, the Texas governor opposes the flight ban idea.

Jindal was inexplicably proud to decline $6 billion in federal money to expand Medicaid coverage in his state. Nearly 900,000 Louisianans currently lack health insurance.

“Expansion would result in 41 percent of Louisiana’s population being enrolled in Medicaid,” Jindal explained at the time. “We should measure success by reducing the number of people on public assistance.”

There are many ways of measuring success in a society, widespread health coverage being one. Instead, we see a political failure that has left Americans more vulnerable to a deadly disease than they had to be. It’s really something.

Email: fharrop@gmail.com

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