The liberals attacking the Senate health reform bill must never have known real illness. They’ve never been fired at the age of 50 and left without health insurance. They’ve probably never known anyone who died for lack of health insurance.

Those are the only reasons I can think of for their last-minute and thoroughly despicable assault on the bill struggling through the Senate.

Spare me their attacks on President Barack Obama, who doesn’t measure up to their impossible standards. And spare me Howard Dean. I thought Joe Lieberman was the dumbest politician from New England until Dean urged Senate Democrats to vote against health reform.

These people are every bit as destructive as the Senate Republicans who spent Friday holding up a defense spending bill that included a pay raise for the troops.

Thousands of people are likely to die if this health care bill is not signed into law.

That’s the conclusion of studies by the Urban Institute and the Institute of Medicine. Their predictions have been pretty much ignored as Obama’s Democratic critics whine about his failure to support the public option or the provision permitting those 55 and older to buy into Medicare.

The studies, based on census figures, looked at the years 2000 through 2006 and estimated that 137,000 died because they lacked health insurance. In 2006, 22,000 died. According to the studies, the death rate of the uninsured was 25 percent higher than that of the insured.

Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein, one of the sharpest journalists writing about the health fight, noted that “since the population of the uninsured grows every year, and so does the death toll, it surely would be higher [than 137,000].” He estimated the number would grow to 150,000 dead.

“The uninsured are less likely to seek early care,” he wrote. “They are less likely to get good care. They are less likely to return for follow-up care. They are less likely to afford the maintenance of chronic conditions. … Medicare saved lives. Medicaid saved lives. … And health-care reform will save lives, too. … And those who would be so cavalier as to close the door because of the public option or the Medicare buy-in, or the absence of either thing, should think long and hard about those numbers.”

I didn’t hear Dr. Howard Dean, speaking from the sidelines, talk about saving lives when he denounced the bill in the Senate. I just saw a disagreeable, disappointed politician, angry because Obama didn’t appoint him to be secretary of health and human services and didn’t support him for another term as national party chairman.

Then MSNBC jumped on the anti-Obama bandwagon, hoping to attract a big audience of liberals in its competition with right-wing Fox News. Along for the ride are a lot of liberal bloggers, sensing they can attract readers.

It’s infuriating watching the Senate Republicans waste time in their repetitive rants, holding up everything in an attempt to run out the clock and beat health reform that way. The Republican goal is clear: Kill this bill and set the stage for victories in the congressional election in 2010 and the presidential election in 2012.

But Democratic liberals are supposed to value human lives. Those who’ve chosen to take a stand against health reform are willing to let people die because the current bill isn’t exactly what they want.

This bill is better than anything in our present health care system. It will be improved in Senate-House conference. It will be further improved in years ahead. And it will save lives.

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