One child’s flu death is one too many

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Jasmine Levy’s February 24 flu death is a tragedy. We grieve her loss and extend her family our condolences. At a personal level, that’s all we can do. As a matter of Minnesota health care policy, there’s plenty of room for action.

Opinion: One child’s flu death is one too many

Jasmine Levy, 12, a seventh grader, had no health insurance because her mom, Andrea, a single parent, had none.

Levy had asthma, a flu-complicating condition. She developed a staph infection, massively contributing to her quick death. There’s no guarantee that a flu-shot would’ve prevented her death. Nor is there any assurance that health insurance would’ve saved her.

Conservative bloggers have attacked Levy’s mother, blaming her for having no health insurance and, in effect, for being working poor. They insinuate unfit parenting.

As a father, this callousness angers me. As a progressive, I’m called to action.

This fight is not new.

Means testing public assistance requests was first broadly codified, in the Anglo-American tradition, in 1601. The Elizabethan Poor Law created a framework for assessing and acting on social security needs. It divided the dependent poor into three classes: the impotent poor, including the elderly, children and infirm; the able-bodied poor, unskilled or circumstantially unemployed workers; and vagrants. The first group is generally considered the deserving poor while the latter are labeled the undeserving poor. Public sentiment perpetually swung the able-bodied poor between the two extremes.

Evaluating assistance is as old as the human condition.

In the Bible’s New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth relates the Good Samaritan parable, instructing listeners in compassion. Charitable exhortation runs deeply through the Abrahamic tradition. Yet, adherents resist.

Governor Pawlenty and conservative public policy makers repeatedly resist extending affordable health care to Minnesota’s uninsured families. Subsidized health insurance is cheaper, more effective and more compassionate than forcing families into high-risk, high-wire health needs balancing acts.

The same conservative voices that criticize uninsured parents consistently advocate or, in the case of elected officials, vote, underfunding or eliminating subsidized health insurance. Seek charity, they sneer.

Minnesota’s hospitals, non-profit by law and many founded with an explicit charitable mission, conveniently forget that charge. Dunning the poor comes before compassion. Charity is most hospitals’ last resort cost write-off for poor patients’ unpaid bills.

Earlier this week, Minnesota 2020 reader Grant Tiefenbruk, Cottage Grove, wrote us, asking, “Is anyone else deeply disturbed about the influenza caused death of a 12 year old girl with asthma and the nearly fatal infection of her sister which resulted in a wild middle of the night 911 call followed by a couple of days in the hospital in an induced coma? Neither girl had a flu shot because the divorced, single mother did not have health care insurance. A flu shot costs between $10 – $15. Does anyone still believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Flu shots for children should be a part of basic health care.”

Grant, yes, we are disturbed. We also understand the fight before us. Conservative public policy voices resist our affordable health care goal but if they believe that an uninsured twelve year old girl’s death expands our collective liberty then they are wrong. We are poorer for Jasmine Levy’s death, not better, richer or freer.

Expanding affordable health care and insuring every Minnesotan is an overdue goal. It is a simple, clear public policy objective with a measurable, objective outcome. It’s the smart thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.

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Those wishing to contribute to a memorial fund to help the Levy family may do so at any TCF Bank branch or mail donations to :

Jasmine Levy Memorial Fund
TCF National Bank
801 Marquette Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55402
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