Guest column: A matter of life and death

The furious political debate over Obamacare ignores that a shortage of available health insurance among poor women is taking a heavy toll, writes Robert Hemsley.

Like many Americans, I have concerns about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), but do not understand the political animosity.

My Democrat friends defend a plan that was originally a conservative alternative to national single-payer health care, while my Republican friends denounce as socialist a program that protects the profits and power of insurance companies. But we should agree that our health system is expensive and inefficient at providing for the health needs of all Americans.

American women are not being served well by our health system. For the first time in our history, poor women are dying at a younger age than their mothers. Poor women in America die five years younger than women in higher income levels. A steep decline in mortality often indicates social, economic and/or political upheaval. The last time such a dramatic decline in mortality occurred was in Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed.

More American women are also dying in childbirth. In 1990, the maternal mortality rate for American women was 12 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, but by 2013 the maternal mortality rate had jumped to 28 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births - a 136 percent increase!

In contrast, China’s maternal mortality rate decreased by 67 percent during the same time period. The maternal mortality rate among developed nations is 16 deaths per 100,000 births, making the maternal mortality rate in the United States 75 percent higher than other developed nations. In fact, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is worse than many developing nations. The U.S. ranks only 53rd among all nations in maternal mortality, falling behind countries such as Albania and Iran, and only slightly better than Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

A contributing factor for such tragic figures is that many lack health insurance, including a disproportionate number of women in Idaho. Before Obamacare, 14.7 percent of Americans did not have health insurance, but in Idaho 18.4 percent of residents lacked health insurance, and the statistics for women were much worse: 24.5 percent of Idaho women between the ages of 18-64 lacked health coverage, but for Hispanic women the figure was 40.6 percent. These are often the women who do not receive adequate medical care during pregnancy, resulting in tragic consequences.

But Idaho refuses to expand Medicaid to cover those with limited access to medical care. Republicans claim to be fiscally responsible and family friendly, but should note preventative care is less expensive than emergency care and promoting mother and child health is a family value.

Democrats must recognize Obamacare has flaws that need to be fixed, but Republicans are foolish to claim our health system is the best in the world. We are a nation with growing inequality between rich and poor - life and death.