Nurses Say Letting Uninsured Patients Die Is No Laughing Matter Following Abhorrent Audience Cheers at CNN-Tea Party Debate
The nation’s largest representative of registered nurses today expressed revulsion at the cheering by some audience members in the CNN-Tea Party Republican debate Monday night at the prospect of letting a sick person die just because they do not have health insurance.
Prompting the outburst was a question from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer to Rep. Ron Paul about whether medical care should be provided to a hypothetical, uninsured 30-year-old man who lapsed into a coma, to which Paul responded, “that’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks.” When Blitzer then asked, “Are you saying that society should just let him die?” a number of audience members erupted into loud cheers of “Yeah!” and laughter.
National Nurses United said the gruesome reaction from many in the audience is a reminder of the growing collapse of civil society in America, and the need for more humane policies. One such step would be to expand Medicare to cover all Americans so that no one has to be in danger of losing their life because they are uninsured.
Nor is it an academic question. Nearly 45,000 deaths in the U.S. every year are associated with lack of health insurance, according to a study this year by Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance published by the American Journal of Public Health.
“It was stunning. My first reaction is how far have we degenerated as a society?” said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN who said she was watching the debate.
Ross called the reaction antithetical to the very essence of nursing. “Everything we do is geared toward preventing illness, and getting people well. If no one cares whether our patients get well, what are we doing advocating for them and fighting for them?”
A broader question, says NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro, is “one of national identity: Do we have — or even want — a country, a nation of common purpose and support — or just a collection of amoral individuals?”
NNU Co-President Deborah Burger, RN said the idea of “deciding whether someone deserves medical treatment based on their pocket book is abhorrent. Does that mean we should take someone off life support if they are in an accident just because they are uninsured? For nurses that would be unconscionable, and should not be part of any society I want to be in.”
“Healthcare should be a right for everyone, not just a privilege for the few, a point nurses would debate with anyone,” said Ross.
Ross said she was also disturbed by Paul’s comment about “freedom.”
“Abandoning people is not freedom,” said Ross, especially those without the resources to buy increasingly expensive private insurance. “That isn’t what I hear from my patients or their families.”
Strikingly, the audience cheers came just hours before the release Tuesday morning of new Census Bureau data showing the number of uninsured Americans this year rising by another 900,000 to 49.9 million people. Concurrently the Census Bureau reported a huge leap in the poverty rate, one reason so many people are without health coverage as insurance premiums alone have doubled in nine years.
“Most people feel that when someone is hurting or down on their luck, you take care of them,” said Ross. “Many of those I’ve cared for who are in their most dire circumstances have said to me that they feel fortunate because there are some who are worse off than they are. There is still a lot of empathy and sympathy for others in this country.”
“Most of us, other than the most wealthy, are just are one illness away from bankruptcy and lack of health insurance,” said DeMoro. “Nurses do not regard lack of wealth or personal misfortune as a handicap or an excuse to withdraw needed and appropriate medical care. Nor should that ever be acceptable in a just and humane society.”
National Nurses United, with 170,000 members, is the nation’s largest union and professional association of nurses. NNU is holding a national convention this week in San Francisco that will also feature a major rally on Thursday, September 15 of 1,000 RNs calling for a tax on Wall Street to raise revenue for Main Street reforms of jobs, healthcare for all, and freedom from hunger and homelessness.