Threats come in many forms. Like losing your health insurance, for instance

Sunday , June 04, 2017 - 5:00 AM

E. KENT WINWARD, special to the Standard-Examiner

“22 Dead in Manchester.”

“Bomb Rocks Kabul.”

Terrorism headlines create an immediate response, as if our own physical safety has been threatened. The reaction is so visceral, we may not even know why we are so strongly impacted. We go on high alert.

Our news consumption is fueled by many things, but for most, it's primarily fueled by our biology and need to feel safe. Car accidents, terror attacks, crimes, deaths and war permeate our news cycles. We crave safety. We want to avoid violence and protect ourselves and our loved ones from physical harm, so we pay attention to news and events that stimulate the watchful, biological instincts in us.

But our instincts in today’s world can deceive us. The dark alleyway isn’t usually where danger lurks. The danger is often in plain sight and not coming in the direction we expect.

Most of our bodies will not fall victim to another person’s violence. Our laws and society insure fairly safe passage through our sojourn here on earth. Illnesses, accidents or old age will claim far more of us than the violence depicted in the news. This isn’t nature, but humanity’s societal imprint. Over the centuries, laws have provided at least some protection.

Laws are not static. Laws can increase or decrease the amount of protection we have. Laws did little to protect women accused of witchcraft throughout the centuries. In fact, the laws led to their deaths. Laws did little to protect Mormons in Missouri, but rather led to their persecution and eventual expulsion from the state. Laws did not protect Japanese Americans during World War II, when internment camps here in Utah held thousands of innocent people against their will. Laws created slavery and enshrined it in our Constitution until the 13th and 14th Amendments. Even with the constitutional changes after the Civil War, actual legal protection was diluted with Jim Crow laws and other misapplications of criminal law.

Notice anything similar about all those examples? The law protected one group at the expense of another. The law draws lines and excludes. We let the phrase “liberty and justice for all” trip off our tongues, but usually what we mean is "liberty and justice for me and mine."

Laws are not a fix-all or remedy for all our ills for this very reason. The majority of us grow complacent because we are used to the laws being in our favor. It doesn't occur to us that changes in the law could harm us. There are laws against terror attacks, murder, theft, drunk driving and even illegal parking. Yet, these things still happen. When we learn of violent aberrations and legal violations, they demand our bodies’ emotional attention. We go on high alert.

Individuals who struggle with medical problems, who are self-employed or who have minimal income are very attuned to the debates about changes in health care laws because their bodies, or the physical well-being of those they love, are literally under attack. A change may leave them without health insurance. When you are sick or have limited resources, eliminating your access to a doctor can be as life-threatening as a suicide bomber. On the other hand, if you aren’t currently faced with illness, economic struggle or lack of insurance, the health care debate may trigger no emotional response for you at all.

The U.S. House of Representatives just passed the American Health Care Act. It is now in the Senate. The House voted on the bill before getting the numbers from the Congressional Budget Office. However, the Senate has those numbers, and they are not good. By 2026, 24 million Americans who currently have health insurance will lose coverage. To put that number in perspective, the population of Utah is about 3 million. So multiply that number by 7.5, and that’s almost how many people will lose their health insurance under the AHCA.

But even the phrase “lose their health insurance” does not have much of an emotional impact because it seems so abstract, so far away, so "someone else's problem." Yet the nexus between lack of insurance coverage and actual bodily harm is only a couple of steps removed. It can be almost impossible to determine what 24 million people losing health insurance coverage will mean in terms of actual loss of human life.

But we do have some idea. Every national study done on insured versus uninsured individuals has shown an increase in mortality for the uninsured, ranging from 3 percent to 40 percent higher, when other risk factors are taken into account. The studies show anywhere from 13,000 to 45,000 deaths per year due to people being uninsured.

The annual mortality rate is 823.7 deaths per 100,000. So I did a little math and took the most conservative estimate — a 3 percent increase in mortality for not having insurance. The math gave me this headline:

“Congress Aims to Kill 5,690 Americans in 2026.”

Tell me, how does your body respond to that headline?

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. Twitter: @KentWinward

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