Health Care Should Focus On Big Picture

The big flap over Rep. Joe Wilson's accusation that President Obama lied about excluding illegal immigrants from health insurance benefits may be winding down. But, along with distractions like the debates about death panels and abortion, the immigrant issue has not gone away.

The South Carolina congressman and his fans in and out of Congress are worried that illegal immigrants, unless called upon to produce proof of citizenship, may slip through the cracks.

Furthermore, barring illegal immigrants from insurance benefits does not bar them from receiving treatment in a hospital emergency room.

ERs have become the place for treatment of last resort for too many people — here legally or illegally.

T.R. Reid tells of a dramatic case in his book The Healing of America. Nikki White lost her job and health insurance as a result of having a type of lupus. Because of her pre-existing condition, she could not get new health insurance. Eventually, she collapsed and was taken to the emergency room. Three doctors undertook to treat her until her condition stabilized — that involved six months in critical care and 25 surgical operations. She went home, still without insurance, and died at the age of 32.

Her doctor, Amylyn Crawford, said, "Nikki died of complications of the failing American health care system."

It becomes clear that a universal system of health insurance would save many lives. And it might help to sustain hospitals, whose emergency rooms are coming under increasing pressure as unemployment swells the rolls of Americans without insurance.

Maybe our legislators should stop worrying about the scattering of illegal immigrants who may get unauthorized treatment, and think of the millions who can't afford to get authorized treatment.

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