[Mb-civic] Healthcare Swept Away
Mha Atma Khalsa
drmhaatma at yahoo.com
Fri Sep 23 14:20:53 PDT 2005
Published on Wednesday, September 21, 2005 by the Boston Globe
Healthcare Swept Away
by Derrick Z. Jackson
One of the most sordid stories to come out of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was the discovery of 154 bodies in hospitals and nursing homes. They account for 21 percent of the currently counted fatalities in Louisiana. Despite the heroism of doctors and nurses, The New York Times wrote, ''the collapse of one of society's most basic covenants -- to care for the helpless -- suggests that the elderly and critically ill plummeted to the bottom of priority lists as calamity engulfed New Orleans."
The Washington Post wrote of Rosalie Guidry Daste, a 100-year-old woman who ''survived five days trapped on the suffocating second floor of a flooded New Orleans nursing home, only to die soon after she was rescued and airlifted to a hospital." Saving patients became a race against class divisions. For-profit nursing homes and hospitals largely were able to marshal ambulances, buses, and helicopters to evacuate patients.
But the blundering of local, state, and federal governments thrust doctors and nurses at the poorest public hospitals into a battle in putrid conditions to save patients. Dwayne Thomas, the head of Charity and University public hospitals, told the Times that it was ''as close as I've gotten to the Third World." He said that the Louisiana Legislature for years ignored his requests for $8 million to prepare for hurricanes. His chief of intensive care, Ben deBoisblanc, who vented outrage in the Houston Chronicle about how helicopters ignored his patients, said, ''It's a travesty how this hospital for indigents was being treated."
As dramatic and singularly horrible as this all seems, the ultimate travesty is that what happened to Charity Hospital is merely symbolic of a slow drowning of America's healthcare. Just like the $8 million that was denied to Charity year after year for preventive measures against natural disaster, we remain in a midst of a national healthcare crisis that continues to worsen by the day. Just before Katrina blew apart the Gulf Coast, the Census Bureau released its latest numbers on Americans without health insurance. Despite five years of the Bush White House talking about how tax cuts would benefit all Americans, there was no change in real median income. Both the number and percentage of Americans in poverty increased. There was no change in the 15.7 percent of Americans without health insurance, but with population growth, the actual number of people without health insurance climbed to record heights.
With the exception of 1999 and 2000, the number of Americans without health insurance has risen steadily from just over 30 million in 1987. It is a bipartisan failure. After President Clinton dropped his botched attempt for a more universal form of healthcare in his first term, the numbers of the uninsured soared from 35 million to nearly 45 million. Aided by a booming economy, the numbers fell in Clinton's last two years to 40 million. Under Bush, the number cracked the 45 million barrier for the first time -- 45.8 million, to be exact.
Last week, as Bush conducted damage control over the negligent federal response to Katrina, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report indicating that healthcare premiums continue to increase at triple the rate of inflation. The average cost of family health coverage is now $10,880, surpassing the gross earnings of someone working full time at the federal minimum wage.
In the Bush years, the cost of health insurance has skyrocketed by 73 percent. While Bush has given vastly disproportionate shares of his tax cuts to corporations and wealthy individuals under the guise that the rich will create jobs, not only has there been no rise in income for the average American; business firms, especially small ones, are cutting workers out of healthcare. Since Bush took office, the percentage of companies that offer health insurance has dropped from 69 percent to 60 percent.
Healthcare spending in the United States is expected to grow from $1.4 trillion last year to $3.1 trillion a year by 2012. Yet virtually nothing on a large scale has been done about it, with insurance companies, drug companies, and major medical associations lobbying forcefully on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures against cost controls and single- payer coverage. The travesty of the hospitals in New Orleans is only a prelude to the disaster that is about to strike healthcare in America.
© 2005 Boston Globe
Published on Wednesday, September 21, 2005 by the Madison Capital Times (Wisconsin)
U.S. Failure No. 1: No Health Insurance
by Dave Zweifel
The New York Times' Paul Krugman, who has shined by pointing out the pitfalls of the Bush administration's plans to "fix" Social Security, was right on the mark the other day with his observation that Hurricane Katrina exposed just one of this nation's failures to protect its less fortunate citizens.
The lack of health insurance, he pointed out, kills many more Americans each year than Katrina and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, combined.
And while the aftermath of Katrina has politicians scrambling to do something about the abject poverty in our nation's great cities, the fact that 45 million Americans - most of them working men and women - have no health insurance continues to fall beneath the political radar.
Krugman claims that health care isn't yet a crisis among the middle class in America because most in the middle class do have insurance. The worst effects are falling on the poor and the black, who have Third World levels of infant mortality and life expectancy as a result.
As he and others have noted, however, the sorry state of our health care system is starting to creep around the edges of middle class America.
When an automobile giant like Toyota decides to locate a new North American plant in Canada instead of in the southern U.S. because Canadians have a national health care system, that's starting to send a message to all Americans, not just the working poor.
When more and more companies are making their workers choose between a pay raise or continuing the company health insurance plan, more are starting to ask questions.
When small businesses have to drop their insurance plans because they simply cannot afford to pay the premiums for their employees, a lot of middle class Americans and their families are starting to notice.
A select few national politicians are beginning to advance the idea that the U.S. - like most of the other industrialized nations in the world - needs to have its own national health care plan, like Medicare, which covers everyone in America over the age of 65.
And others are starting to admit that we could have such a plan for less money than employers, workers, insurers and the rest of the convoluted system are shelling out now.
Katrina exposed one national shame. It's time the lawmakers in this country expose the health insurance shame and begin to do something about it.
Dave Zweifel is editor of The Capital Times.
© 2005 Capital Times
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