My Dying Uncle vs. Ron Paul: A Public Health Disaster in the Works

I’m going to tell a story. My uncle is 52 years old; that’s ten more years than I. When I was a kid he would introduce me to all kinds of amazing 70’s rock and psyche records. My uncle, like much of my family, is mentally ill.

Specifically, he fights severe depression; though through medication, he has been able to maintain a minimal standard of living and assisted my grandfather through his arduously long passing. Like many caregivers, his efforts are little appreciated nor recognized.

After my grandfather passed, my uncle had a job but lost his health benefits. Unable to obtain a new prescription for his depression meds, he started self-medicating through alcohol. Most people in his family are addicts. Little understood is the role that depression plays in addiction. Without anti-depressants, my uncle will drink almost constantly.

Recently, I went to see him. He looked nearly 20 years older than his actual age, was incontinent and hadn’t eaten in nearly two weeks. He subsists off calories from beer. I left heartbroken.

Six weeks ago, I received a call that my uncle had been admitted to the ICU. He had a stroke while buying beer at a local convenience store, fell and fractured his skull. Somehow, he managed to walk home and locked himself in his house. Someone found him and brought him to the hospital, where he was operated on for a brain hemorrhage. He then later had second stroke, fell again, and had to have the surgery once more.

My uncle has since relearned to walk, but has no use of his hands. I must stress again that he has no health insurance. The hospital discharged him since he could not pay. Now, he lives alone in his house, with no power, heat, nor food, he is barely mobile and will never be able to work again.

I tell this story because it fills me with rage. The Republican Party would happily let my uncle die. That we live in a country where basic health care is available only for the rich, and requirements that everyone enter into some kind of health plan are viewed as “Hitleresque” fills me with an indescribable rage. It’s almost cliché to point out that we live in the wealthiest country on the planet (by GDP), yet still can’t seem to figure out how to provide for the health of all of our citizens.

By far, out of all of the Republican candidates, , Ron Paul has the worst suggestions for what to do about the uninsured, let alone what to do about health care in the United States. He believes that insurance companies should be allowed to insure whomever they wish. That no one should be forced to pay for the health care of another individual. That hospitals should be allowed to decide whom to exclude treatment to.

Paradoxically, he believes that the solution to the problem of health care in America is to shift the burden of cost to doctors themselves. He believes that doctors should volunteer their time and resources to assist the poor so that they will stop troubling the rest of us.

Presumably, he’s never asked doctors whether they like working without being paid. Or that most of the cost of health care is for materials and services that do not involve the practitioner. Nurses, for example, are they to work without getting paid as well? Are doctors merely to absorb all the costs of care from their own incomes? If they pass these costs on (as they are now) to other patients, does that not also violate Paul’s ideas of forced remuneration from those who have? Paul, though, waxes nostalgic on health care pre-1965, ignoring the fact that health care was less complicated, less costly, less effective and less accessible in the good old days. But then we should expect no less from bull-headed Ron Paul.

Even worse yet, Paul believes that one of the solutions to health care in the United States is to support “alternative therapies,” such as as vitamin therapy, a movement that believes that massive doses of vitamins can cure cancer. Maybe he also supports aromatherapy?

He even fans the flames of a vast government conspiracy to control the supply of vitamins. What a great idea! It’s cheaper than surgery, and even cheaper than chemo! In Paul’s massively unrealistic world, if the vitamins don’t work, then there will always be a kindly doctor willing to step up and provide multi-million dollar cancer treatments for free to anyone who wants it.

Paul hates the FDA,, who ensure the safety of pharmaceuticals marketed in the US. He hates any hindrance to quackery and the protection of public safety , assuming the free market will weed out dangerous pharmaceuticals. It seems he never considered all of the people that have to die first, or the desperation of the poor who have to balance safety, cost, and the potential for relief.

Paul rightly recognizes that health care is costly, but wrongly believes that the free market will contain costs, assuming that health care is subject to standard models of supply and demand, an assumption that has been repeatedly proven wrong. Have you ever tried to bargain with your emergency room doctor for a better price?

He hates Medicaid, SCHIP, and Medicare. I would venture to assume that he even hates employer-provided health plans, which do not allow individuals to opt-out. In fact, the only insurance plan he seems to support is that of health savings accounts (HSAs).

The math might work out for Paul, but not for my uncle, who skated by on less than $20,000 a year. HSAs are hardly realistic. Even if he were to hypothetically save 2.5% of his income for thirty years (which is nearly impossible, the poor spend everything they earn) and receive a 5% annual interest rate, he would still only end up saving approximately $30,000. He hospital bill well exceeded $30,000 the first night he spent under surgery.

Worse yet, Paul believes that all foreign aid should be rescinded.

This includes successful programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has provided HIV medications for more than 1.2 million people in Africa. Paul believes the private sector should provide these funds and made all kinds of grand predictions about PEPFAR that didn’t come true. Here’s Paul on PEPFAR, spouting the same condescending and borderline racist nonsense that he disavowed from his newsletters:

“I concede it’s very well intended,” Rep. Ron Paul said, “[but] I think if we’re going to be doing any social engineering or social suggestions it ought to be here, and we ought not be naive enough to believe we can change habits that occur in Africa.

In discussion of foreign aid, he ignores that fact that the Global Fund to Fight HIV, TB, and Malaria is overwhelmingly funded by public sources. The private sector provides a little chump change to improve their sales figures (e.g. the (RED) Campaign) but in reality, nothing substantive in comparison to public funding. Please note that Bill Gates is the exception, not the rule.

A Paul presidency would mean that scores of people around the world would die, simply for the crime of having been born poor and not having a little blue passport. It pains me to laud the health successes of the Bush Presidency, however, the Obama Administration has been embarrassingly lackluster compared to Bush, barely mentioning world health issues in his four years in office. I fear that the rise of extreme right-wingers like Paul signals a general indifference of America—and not only to world health issues—and that the day will come when programs such as PEPFAR are lost to history.

Paul’s attitude toward health care is akin to Jehovah’s witnesses who refuse to provide blood transfusions to dying children. He would let the world suffer and die for the sake of a pig-headed adherence to a limited ideology but what else should we expect form the guy who supports nuclear proliferation?

Václav Havel, the former dissident-turned-President of Czechoslovakia who just passed away this past December, argued in his seminal essay, The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe, that, “Ideology, in creating a bridge of excuses between the system and the individual, spans the abyss between the aims of the system and the aims of life. It pretends that the requirements of the system derive from the requirements of life.” Unfortunately for my uncle and millions like him, ideology is a prescription destined to fail each and every time. For Paul, it’s a talking point engineered to sell more newsletters and pad his pockets.

Domestically, the health concerns of the poor are not to be heard on the campaign trail. Republican voters simply don’t want to hear about it. Worse yet, conversations about Paul’s health care policy are absent amongst his youngest supporters, who seem to be more concerned about legalizing weed and the waning wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The young and healthy, it seems, think little about the sick.

Fortunately, Paul will not become President. His ascendency, however, signals that a large sector of America is comfortable letting people like my uncle die.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

13 responses to “My Dying Uncle vs. Ron Paul: A Public Health Disaster in the Works”

  1. alan2102 says :

    “conversations about Paul’s health care policy are absent amongst his youngest supporters, who seem to be more concerned about legalizing weed and the waning wars in Afghanistan and Iraq”

    Right. More concerned about MILLIONS dying in Afghanistan and Iraq (and Libya, and North Korea, and etcetera) than your uncle. Sorry about that. I’m sorry about your uncle, Peter. Really, I am. He needs and deserves support. But there are MILLIONS of people elsewhere, as well. They need and deserve support, as well, starting with simply NOT KILLING THEM. Ever think about them, Peter? Do they count, too? Do you think that they deserve to not be killed? Are you even aware that they exist? Or is it all just about your uncle?

    “[Paul’s] ascendency…signals that a large sector of America is comfortable letting people like my uncle die.”

    Actually, it is the narrow-minded objections to Paul — like yours — that signal that a large sector of America is comfortable with letting MILLIONS of people die. Support for Obama and Romney (et alia), versus Paul, reflects comfort with letting MILLIONS of people die, and suffer torture and imprisonment, etc., etc. Your objections, Peter, signal that you are comfortable with letting millions of people die, while making a tepid sentimental appeal regarding your uncle. Hope you’re OK with that, because now it is on record.

    This is coming from someone who is very well aware of Paul’s deficiencies, and the way in which his worldview and values are INADEQUATE to deal with the totality of our problems. But “the totality of our problems” is, of course, not the point. At this late date, and in consideration of the fact that we now live in a collapsing empire, we either lend support to that which is apart from the will of the oligarchs and plutocrats (neocon warmongers, zionists, etc., etc.), or we do not. Quite simple, really, on that level. On that level, you’re either with us, or against us.

    It seems that you have sided with the oligarchs and plutocrats, and warmongers. Hope you’re OK with that, because now it is on record. Unless you’ve got some alternative explanation/excuse. I won’t hold my breath.

  2. Pete Larson says :


    I wrote a post on Ron Paul and health care because it’s a subject that not many people are talking about.

    I don’t understand how this post can be construed as advocating for war.

    Thank you for your comment.


  3. alan2102 says :

    Peter wrote, VERBATIM: “conversations about Paul’s health care policy are absent amongst his youngest supporters, who seem to be more concerned about legalizing weed and THE WANING WARS IN AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ” [emphasis added]

    Do you notice the phrase “wars in afghanistan and iraq”? I hope so, because you wrote it.

    You’re right that his supporters are more concerned about MILLIONS dying in Afghanistan and Iraq (and Libya, and North Korea, and etcetera) than your uncle. Sorry about that. I’m sorry about your uncle, Peter. Really, I am. He needs and deserves support. But there are MILLIONS of people elsewhere, as well. They need and deserve support, as well, starting with simply NOT KILLING THEM. Ever think about them, Peter? Do they count, too? Do you think that they deserve to not be killed? Are you even aware that they exist? Or is it all just about your uncle?

  4. Pete Larson says :

    Sorry, man. I didn’t write a post about war, though I’ve written others. This one was about health policy. I’m sorry that you didn’t like it.

    For the record, it’s not just about my uncle, though that point appears to be lost on you.

  5. alan2102 says :

    The point is that everything occurs within a context. Ron Paul’s ideas about health care (as well as yours) occur within a context. You cannot divorce one part of the picture from the rest of the picture. You’ve busied yourself denouncing Ron Paul, which is fine, providing you understand and take responsibility for the full implications of it. The full implications include not only the bad things that Paul advocates (and there are many), but the good as well. It is a package, and you cannot embrace one piece while disregarding the others; it does not work like that. In denouncing him — since his is the sole voice presently on the national scene which questions and rejects our imperial adventures and all the mayhem that they entail (millions of deaths by starvation, disease, etc., etc.) — you denounce the only possibility of national discussion of this crucial moral issue. In denouncing him you effectively support the death by starvation, disease, etc., of millions. There’s no way around it, Peter. Ideas have consequences, and those are the consequences of your ideas. Your concern for your uncle is commendable. But even more commendable would be your concern for the millions who are tortured, starved and killed by the U.S.’ imperial policies. After all, those millions are also the uncles, and aunts, and sons and daughters, and spouses, etc., etc., of other people. Each one of them is important. This is not just about your uncle. It is about a whole world full of other people. Copische?

  6. alan2102 says :

    Peter: “For the record, it’s not just about my uncle, though that point appears to be lost on you.”

    No, that point appears to be lost on YOU, Peter. At least so far.

  7. Pete Larson says :


    I recognize and respect your opinions. Warfare is certainly a public health issue and, as you may not know, is a part of my professional research. I have written about warfare and civilian death in several posts before. This post, however, was specific to the health policy views of Ron Paul. I apologize that it did not address the issues you feel important.

    Respectfully, I think that you misread Paul. Paul may be anti-war in as far as it involves the United States, but he is certainly not pro-peace by any stretch.

    Again, I am sorry that what I wrote incensed you so.



  8. alan2102 says :

    Peter: “This post…was specific to the health policy views of Ron Paul”

    Then why did you raise the issue of war? As you wrote, Paul’s young supporters “seem to be more concerned about legalizing weed and the waning wars in Afghanistan and Iraq”. You’re right. They ARE more concerned, as well they should be. Those issues are more important than U.S. domestic health policy. Why feign morality in domestic issues while your country is out murdering people everywhere else?

    I’m glad you raised the issue of war, because it is the vital context in which Paul’s health policy views, and other views, must be considered.

    Peter: “Paul may be anti-war in as far as it involves the United States, but he is certainly not pro-peace by any stretch.”

    The statement makes no sense. “Antiwar insofar as it involves the U.S.” — what do you think? That the U.S. is involved in a civil war? The only antiwar stance that exists at all, for us, has to do with the U.S.’ behavior toward other countries. Being in favor of dismantling the military-industrial complex, shutting down U.S. military bases, bringing to an end the various wars, and so on — all of which are Paul’s positions — is antiwar. Paul is the only candidate who holds these views.

    As for “pro-peace”: I understand that that can mean more (a lot more!) than just ceasing to make war. And indeed that is something that Paul and his ilk don’t understand very well. Nevertheless, the *sine qua non* of pro-peace IS antiwar. The pro-peace initiatives don’t have a snowball’s chance until the wars are halted. Paul and his like may not know much about building a peaceful world, except for the most important single condition for same: stopping the wars. Give credit where it is due.

    BTW: having an opinion does not make one “incensed”.

  9. Pete Larson says :


    The post was about more than domestic health policy. You will notice that I included a paragraph on international policy and the implications of cutting it as well. I am sure that you will disagree, but many more people will die from cuts for foreign aid and US contributions to international health programs than will have died in either Iraq or Afghanistan combined up to this point. I do not make that statement to excuse those wars, but to draw attention to the reality of the numbers.

    It is also important to point out that most people who die in wars, die of starvation and infectious diseases. If the United States sidelines itself on dealing with post conflict health (for example) as Paul is suggesting, a lot of people will die.

    No, I was not implying that the US is in a civil war. Paul does not want the US to be involved in foreign wars. He cares little whether other countries in the world are at war. Most frightening, Paul is aloof to the possibility of nuclear proliferation, a dangerous attitude. Paul’s anti-war views do not amount to pro-peace. If war broke out on the Korean peninsula (assuming the US have left), Paul would simply suggest ignoring it.

    You appear to agree that Paul is not pro-peace, though, we agree that developing a peaceful world through dialogue and cooperation is important. I do not think that Ron Paul shares this view.

    I respect your opinions and appreciate your comments. Understand again, that this post was not about war. It was about health policy, both domestic and international. I understand and agree with your point that war is very much a public health issue, but I just didn’t want to take this post in that direction.

    Again, thank you for your kind input. I appreciate the dialogue.


  10. Zhan says :

    “Presumably, he’s never asked doctors whether they like working without being paid.”

    Maybe because he is a doctor, and has worked without being paid in certain situations in his medical career?

  11. LARi says :

    Ok you guys, his uncle was supposed to be a representation of the 32 million americans that are uninsured and cannot afford health insurance.. some examples would be: the mentally disabled like his uncle, anyone pursuing higher education over the age of 26 (or those whose parents are medicare/medicad or do not have insurance for whatever reason, those who lost their jobs (possibly those jobs outsourced) etc. Ron paul is one doctor, one OLD doctor at that. He does not know if doctors from this day and age would want to work for free. Plus it scares me that his point of reference for saying that privatization of the medical industry would be beneficial is from back in his day. TIMES HAVE CHANGED technology has had some huge implications on the medical industry. Plus I think its pretty telling that we are like the only developed nation that does not have socialized medicine. Did you know that other developed (and developing) nations with socialized medicine TRUMPS us in overall health of its citizens in MANY factors such as life expectancy, infant mortality rates, cardiovascular disease etc…

    #23 on the human development index?! even though we have the highest GDP!! They made a new scale that accounts for inequality – (meaning they do not let the top 1% of the population throw statistics off but instead look at the statistics as a whole inequality included)

    as far as war arguments are concerned.. he wants us not to be the world police, but obviously does not acknowledge our role in the world’s problems. For example, have you ever heard of the national monetary fund?? Its a US/EURO backed entity that puts pressure on international leaders to privatize certain industries so that US/euro investors can invest in them even if it has horrible consequences for the people. For example, don’t you know how the Zapatistas got started in Mexico?? what about the US backed leaders that argentina literally ran out of their country and back to the united states for privatizing previously government ran things in the interest of US firms. We fund “democracy campaigns” of certain candidates in several countries (usually leaders that will work in our interest not of that country).. we extract resources (water, gold, oil) etc from many places around the world leaving locals nothing. We also have set up sweat shops all across the globe. Also.. US firms has been known to hire militia groups in certain parts in africa to guard factories and extraction sites.. they have been known to shoot any africans that come on the land (even if its hunters looking for food!) So not even our US government.. but american corporations (NGOs) will run a country to the ground and then the US has the tenacity to tell these people that they can’t come here, and ron paul doesn’t even want to those these countries a bone… wtf?! Just because we may choose to not involve ourselves in wars and aid in other countries does not mean we aren’t doing anything else there.

  12. DaveBurton says :

    You’re right about Ron Paul — he’s a nutcase, with a heart of stone (like his even nuttier buddies, Lew Rockwell & Alex Jones). View him here, arguing that even GENOCIDE overseas is not our concern, and that we shouldn’t even send FOOD aid:

    (I encourage you to listen to the other candidates’ replies, too; they might make you want to stand up and cheer!)

    You are right in your admiration of Václav Havel, too. He was a rare, truly great man. At one time, he was the ONLY head of state in the entire world who I respected.

    But you’re wrong about the rest of the Republicans. We are not the heartless goons you think we are. We are the Party which was founded for the purpose of emancipating the oppressed, and still stands today for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves, such as the unborn.

    Your disabled & destitute uncle should qualify for Medicaid, as well as charity care at any public hospital or county health clinic, and a wide variety of public assistance benefits, including social security, food stamps, housing assistance, etc., as well as private assistance through his church and various other private charities.

    The danger of ObamaCare is well-illustrated in Canada and the UK, where healthcare rationing is depriving people of the care they need. This commercial Canadian web site, which sells medical care to Canadians (who supposedly get it for free) illustrates the danger:
    So does this Stossel report on ABC:

  13. Pete Larson says :

    Thank you for your kind reply.

    It is interesting that you speak of rationing, since the rationing of care is exactly what got my uncle in the position he is in today: poor people have almost no access to adequate and affordable health care.

    Also, I think it should be obvious by now that the Affordable Health Care Act does create a system like Canada’s. If it did, I would have been elated, but it simply does nothing of the sort.

    As for Canadians, their health profile is vastly better than Americans’, and universal access to care is one major reason.

    You may be speaking of expensive surgeries and cancer treatments, but the plain fact is that in this country, the poor have trouble obtaining affordable care for even the simplest of medical treatments.

    As for Medicaid, no, my uncle did NOT qualify for Medicaid before his eventual strokes. He made too much money, but still never broke $15,000 a year. You make is seem so simple, but it’s not.

    I suspect that you are among the lucky ones who never had to worry about it.

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