A Modest Proposal

November 19, 2019

A recent social media post linked to a study, New study finds 45,000 deaths annually linked to lack of health coverage and it got me thinking that there's a better way to think about these sorts of numbers. My proposal is to use the death count from the hugely divisive and traumatic Vietnam War as a comparison - introducing the Nam:

Of course, this only refers to the number of US military killed and excludes the deaths of the 2 million civilians, 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers. But we never really counted them anyway so they are excluded from the Nam, as is fitting.

 # of Nams
Vietnam War (1961-1973) 58,200 1

So, a real world example would be the Nam of the 9/11 attacks -

# of Nams
9/11 attacks 2,977 0.05

This is not meant to denigrate the horrific deaths those people suffered as the Nam does not take into account anything other than number of deaths.

Let's look at the CDC's 2017 Causes of Death - 

# of Nams
Heart disease 647,457 11.12
Cancer 599,108 10.29
Accidents (unintentional injuries) 169,936 2.92
Chronic lower respiratory diseases 160,201 2.75
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases) 146,383 2.52
Alzheimer’s disease 121,404 2.09
Diabetes 83,564 1.44
Influenza and Pneumonia 55,672 0.96
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis 50,633 0.87
Intentional self-harm (suicide) 47,173 0.81

Packed into those figures are some interesting stats:

# of Nams
Gun Deaths 39,773 0.68
Traffic Accidents 40,231 0.69
Opioid Overdose 70,000 1.20

We're perfectly willing to accept over two thirds of the number of deaths from the entire Vietnam War, every year because of guns.

Same for cars.

For the opioid crisis, we're willing to accept more than number of deaths from the entire Vietnam War, every year.

Returning to the linked article,

# of Nams
Lack of heath coverage 45,000 0.77

So, we, as a society, are willing to accept over three quarters of the number of deaths from the entire Vietnam War, every year due to lack of heath coverage.

Where is the outrage?

Why are we traumatized by Vietnam & 9/11 but not something like lack of health coverage?

Those aren't rhetorical questions, by the way. The sheer number of deaths should at least count for something.

Obviously written pre-pandemic, which stands at 552,000 deaths as of March 31, 2021 - 9.48 Nams, largely preventable had the initial response been different.