The White House today welcomed the $856 billion health care overhaul plan from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus. The administration called it an important building block in the president's drive to change the system. As the debate heats up, our senior news analyst Daniel Schorr is worried. He's worried that lawmakers are losing perspective.

DANIEL SCHORR: The big flap over Congressman 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 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 from insurance benefits doesn't bar them from receiving treatment in a hospital emergency room. ERs have become the place of 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(ph) lost her job and health insurance as a result of having a type of lupus. Because of her pre-existing condition, she couldn't 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. Then 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 illegals who may get unauthorized treatment and think of the millions who can't afford to get authorized treatment.

This is Daniel Schorr.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.