Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Philip Agee and Health Care in Cuba -- and the U.S.

Philip Agee, the former CIA employee who wrote a book about the agency's work with Latin America's brutal dictatorships, died Monday night, in Cuba where he lived in exile. He was 72.

Ed Morrissey does not think anyone will miss him:

One can argue about the policies of the Nixon and Ford administrations in Latin America, but one cannot argue that Agee committed a despicable act by exposing American agents to lethal exposure. If people within these organizations dissent from the policies being pursued or believe crimes to have been committed, they have options outside of violating security. They can go to the Inspector General, or to Congress if necessary, if they want to go around the chain of command. Certainly, the Congress of the Nixon years was very unfriendly to the administration, and they would have been happy to hear from Agee and gather evidence of any wrongdoing.

This is certainly a reasonable and fair criticism, although consistency would require that Ed and his fellow conservatives show the same revulsion about the outing of Valerie Plame -- but consistency is a quality that does not exist in the conservative playbook.

But the most "deliciously ironic" part? The snide jabs about Cuba's health care system. None of the rightie bloggers who have commented on the Agee story miss their chance to connect Agee's death to the quality of medical care in Cuba.

Ed writes: "Now he's gone, well past his expiration date, and it looks like Cuban medical care helped send him on his way. That seems rather fitting, if long overdue."

Dan McLaughlin at Redstate: "Leaving aside the benefits to Mr. Agee of Fidel Castro's world-class health care system, ... "

Blackfive: "My parents taught me that if you can't say something nice about someone, you shouldn't say anything at all. That being the case, I will simply note the delicious irony of Philip Agee's passing at the hands of the great and exalted free healthcare in Cuba."

Yes, the irony is delicious -- especially so, given that on this particular day -- the same day Agee's death in Cuba from a perforated ulcer was reported -- two researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported the results of a study they did in which they tracked different countries' death rates from preventable diseases.

France is at the top of the list. The United States is at the bottom:
France, Japan and Australia rated best and the United States worst in new rankings focusing on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions in 19 leading industrialized nations, researchers said on Tuesday.

If the U.S. health care system performed as well as those of those top three countries, there would be 101,000 fewer deaths in the United States per year, according to researchers writing in the journal Health Affairs.

Researchers Ellen Nolte and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tracked deaths that they deemed could have been prevented by access to timely and effective health care, and ranked nations on how they did.

They called such deaths an important way to gauge the performance of a country's health care system.

Nolte said the large number of Americans who lack any type of health insurance -- about 47 million people in a country of about 300 million, according to U.S. government estimates -- probably was a key factor in the poor showing of the United States compared to other industrialized nations in the study.

"I wouldn't say it (the last-place ranking) is a condemnation, because I think health care in the U.S. is pretty good if you have access. But if you don't, I think that's the main problem, isn't it?" Nolte said in a telephone interview.

In establishing their rankings, the researchers considered deaths before age 75 from numerous causes, including heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, certain bacterial infections and complications of common surgical procedures.

Such deaths accounted for 23 percent of overall deaths in men and 32 percent of deaths in women, the researchers said.

France did best -- with 64.8 deaths deemed preventable by timely and effective health care per 100,000 people, in the study period of 2002 and 2003. Japan had 71.2 and Australia had 71.3 such deaths per 100,000 people. The United States had 109.7 such deaths per 100,000 people, the researchers said.

After the top three, Spain was fourth best, followed in order by Italy, Canada, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, Austria, Germany, Finland, New Zealand, Denmark, Britain, Ireland and Portugal, with the United States last.

Which means that Philip Agee would probably have survived had he been in the United States, because he probably could afford health insurance. But if he had been one of the 47 million Americans who don't have health insurance, chances are he would have been just as dead as he is right now, in Cuba.

1 comment:

leftside said...

Emergency surgury for a perforated ulcer is no walk in the park for any medical team. The British Journal of Surgury says there is a 17% mortality rate and 63% compliation rate associated with the procedure.

Agee made a bold decision. He wanted to stop the support for torture, for political executions, for dictatorships cold and fast. And he did in large part. The CIA was forced to abandon much of its nonsense in Latin America and elsewhere. The CIA was put on the defensive and forced to open up to oversight and democracy. Hardliners will never forgive such a blow, but many parts of the world owe Agee very much. The desertion to the other side was a treasonous act no doubt, but history will judge whether it was just.