The death of Peter W. Smith on May 14 2017 was initially reported without much fanfare, but the recent news that he committed suicide has sent the internet into a frenzy of conspiracy theory speculation. To be fair he was someone who actively tried to access Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails in order to help the GOP campaign; and people who upset Putin in any way do have a track record of dying in suspicious circumstances, so I can see the temptation. But there is a much more interesting story here.

The official story is that Smith killed himself, at the age of 81, because he was seriously ill. In America, being seriously ill is a financial disaster—not least because health case can cost an absolute fortune. Smith had a generous life insurance policy that was about to expire, and he probably would have either been ineligible for renewal given his age (81) and diagnosis, or paying prohibitively expensive premiums. On the other hand, his health insurance policy–no matter how gold plated it was–would have eventually stopped paying out. No company run for a profit will carry on writing cheques for increasingly large sums of money if they can find a way to avoid doing so, and health insurance companies are no different. Smith faced a future of both financial uncertainty and increasingly ill health, and may well have decided that suicide was the best, or only, option.

“Before Obamacare came in, Americans were paying more tax per capita for health care than we do in the UK.”

It’s something that ER doctors in the US see all the time. Insurance companies are not known for their altruism or generosity and regularly avoid paying out. In fact, the Lloyds Names scandal in the 1990’s was brought about precisely because of a headlong quest to maximise profits without sufficient substance to pay out on claims

If you’ve ever tried to claim on car or home insurance you’ll have some idea of how companies will make you jump through hoops, and how, even if they do pay out, it’s usually a lot less than you need to make the necessary repairs. Now imagine that system being used to repair your body after an accident? It’s not pretty, and not ideal.

It’s also far from cheap. Before Obamacare came in, Americans were paying more tax per capita for health care than we do in the UK, for absolutely no service whatsoever. Their taxes went on to fund Medicare mostly for people over 65 years old, and Medicaid, for those on a very low income. If they weren’t lucky enough to have an employer-provided plan, they were then expected to buy their own health care, which could run to thousands of dollars per year, per person. Even with a work-related plan, they could end up spending thousands on co-payments. It was the biggest cause of bankruptcies, and dragged the whole economy down as a result. Obamacare was an attempt to deal with this issue, and there are now increasing calls for a single-payer system, which sounds similar to the NHS.

“I’ve seen a number of crowd-funding appeals from Americans to fund their treatment, and that’s not something I’m keep to replicate.”

And yet, our government here in the UK, blessed with one of the most efficient, fairest, and cheapest systems in the world, seems to want to push us towards an American system. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen any number of crowd-funding appeals from Americans to fund their treatment, and that’s not something I’m keen to replicate here.

So yes, Putin has something of a track record and Peter W. Smith was possibly on his radar, but applying Occam’s razor here, I can think of a much more likely reason for his suicide–and that is the dire situation of American health care when it comes to prolonged, expensive treatment.

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