Numbers like these could make anyone sick:
- In 2004 the United States spent 15.5 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, some $1.79 trillion. At $6,167 per person, this tops all countries in the industrialized world. And yet, the World Health Organization only ranks the U.S. 37th in overall health performance and 29th for life expectancy.
- Prescription drugs cost 30 percent to 60 percent more in this country than in any other country.
- The new Medicare prescription-drug bill prohibts the U.S. from negotiating drug prices, and blocks re-importation of less expensive drugs from Canada.
- Some 45 million Americans go without health insurance, resulting in a million families going bankrupt and more than 18,000 people dying each year due to lack of coverage.
- Even though 80 percent of uninsured Americans are employed, they don’t earn enough to enroll in their employers’ plan or pay for insurance on their own.
- Uninsured patients get charged two to three times as much as those who have health insurance.
These are among the sobering statistics provided by the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition as part of its 10th annual 40-Hour Fast, “Health Care for All: The Moral Prescription,” held March 1-3. This year’s theme noted the immorality of free-market medicine and how health care in the U.S. is becoming more business-oriented instead of helping those most in need.
Participants were encouraged to give up solid food for as long as possible from 8 p.m. Tuesday to noon Thursday, and/or to give up something else meaningful and offer prayers. They were also asked to contact legislators to support renewal of the state Health Care Reform Act and creation of a proposed state Legislative Commission on Universal Health Care.
Also as part of the fast, awareness-raising events were coordinated by Labor-Religion Coalition groups across the state. For example, the 40-Hour Fast in Ithaca was marked by prayer, meditation and video presentations at First Presbyterian Church, as well as a lecture at First Baptist Church by Tim Joseph, chair of the county’s Board of Representatives, who spoke on “The Health Care Crisis in Local Government.”
“People of the state and our country are just feeling the burden and anxiety caused by the increasing premiums and shrinking coverage,” said Edie Reagan, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga, one of the program’s cosponsors. “The insurance companies and the salaries paid to CEOs of pharmaceutical companies — they’re reaping the benefits of this sick system, no pun intended.”
In Chemung County, although no formal 40-Hour Fast was held, the Labor-Religion Coalition encouraged residents to conducts their own fasts. One person who did so was Sister of St. Joseph Louise Dolan, who felt her individual fasting was a valuable supplement to activists’ efforts toward better health care.
“Certainly I can pray for it,” said Sister Dolan, who resides at St. Casimir’s Convent.