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economic justice | health | social services

Health care crisis shapes up into a blockbuster

I don't need to go to the movies to see this summer's latest disaster film: It's unfolding before our eyes. Our lack of health care is a disaster. Meet the cast:
July 13, 2004

Minimum wage earners. You know these people: They pump gas into our cars, cut our hair, wait on us when we buy fast food. They are trying to raise their kids, pay their rent and make ends meet, just like everyone else. They are the working low-income folks, laboring too many hours for too little pay.

Taxpayers. That's you and me. We're desperately trying to hold budgets together, concerned that we are not going to have enough to protect ourselves in our old age or deal with our aging parents right now. We're trying to hold the line.

Our state government. During the past 12 years, our government has seen resources for fire, safety, social services and basic needs stretched and battered. But we still want good service.

The most vulnerable. As the executive director of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, I'm very aware of this last group - the poor, seniors, the disabled, the mentally ill - a cast of thousands, with very few options for relief.

Our community is living out this disaster of a morality play. On July 1, the Oregon Health Plan was "frozen" - not accepting any new applicants. Currently, more than 50,000 adults are on OHP. That number needs to drop to 24,000 by next year in order for the Department of Health and Human Services to make its budget targets. Statewide, more than 400,000 people are uninsured.

As a nonprofit social service provider, I don't see a Hollywood ending here. Our social service system, called the "safety net," has big holes that are getting bigger.

In Register-Guard reporter David Steves' July 1 article, "Health plan enrollment cut off," Maribeth Healey of Oregonians for Health Security said this about uninsured Oregonians: "They end up in the emergency room, which thereby increases the cost of health care for everyone."

Undoubtedly, that's an issue, but there are others. What happens when the worker is ill and misses a significant amount of work? What happens when the utility bill isn't paid, and then the rent, and then the family is evicted?

St. Vincent's Interfaith Emergency Shelter System for homeless families with children just closed its doors for the summer. More than 50 faith communities housed 109 different families during the school year. How many more will they be asked to house next school year?

What happens when prescriptions for the mentally ill aren't available and people act out? Shall they be sent to our already-overcrowded jails and quickly released?

What happens then?

Unlike a movie, this drama involves real people who suffer and die. They do it quietly, where we can't see, and in places we probably don't want to go, but the suffering and the pain are real.

Compassion for those around us should not be optional or a budget item choice. The Register-Guard article states: "The reductions were spurred by defeat of last February's tax-raising ballot measure."

Regardless of your political affiliation, what we have chosen for the vulnerable and the poor brings pain, suffering, extra cost and social disruption to us all. Compassion is a value that is a responsibility and a privilege carrying a price.

It comes down to hard choices. We need to tell our legislators to fund health care for all. Here's why:

Money: A failing health care system is a real cost to our society. By not dealing with the health care needs of our low-income people, we are costing ourselves more - we will all pay, through more jails, higher health insurance costs, and more homelessness. Not choosing to fund health care is poor stewardship of our resources and is unconscionably poor management.

Morality: Taking care of people is the right thing to do.

The disaster is now. Disaster has already struck our current health care climate. It's time to do something about it before it gets worse.

Mark Twain said, "The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't want and do what you'd rather not."

I'd rather not pay higher taxes, but how else can we ensure the health of the system and thus the health of our fellow citizens?

As with all disaster movies, there is a clock ticking down to impending doom. Time's up. In some ways, we're already past it. But that doesn't mean we can't choose to do better. I urge you to contact your elected officials and let them know that health care for all is a priority and to invest money in our health care system.

We can rewrite the ending to this disaster and make sure there isn't a sequel.

Terry McDonald of Eugene is executive director of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County.

homepage: homepage: http://hcao.org

There's plenty of Money for guns and computers.... 13.Jul.2004 16:09

Menopause Red

Nice try, but we're tired of shoving the burden of humanitarian care for all on the working class. The government is spending perhaps $3000 per family this year on killing Iraqis. The Oregon legislature allotted 100 million $ for new computers. The HMOs are making big bucks. THere is plenny money to pay for social services, its just being spent in the wrong places. HOw much aid is going to supply arms to Africa and the Middle East, when it could be paying for food and medicine.

In U.S., Hired Without Health Benefits 13.Jul.2004 16:10

Seth Sandronsky

Press Action
July 13, 2004

I am no TV critic. Truth is, yours truly can barely stomach a few hours of the BBC and U.S. network news a week. Still, consider my idea for a new reality TV show: "Hired Without Health Benefits."

What could be more American? About every third American under the age of 65 lacked health insurance for a month or more during the past two years, according to a study by Washington-based Families USA. Around 85 percent of these 82 million Americans work for a living.

They are your family, friends, co-workers, and perhaps even you. Filmmaker Michael Moore could host the new show. He is a progressive American who is "bankable" to investors.

They look to one thing: return on their investment. The director of Farenheit 9/11 can bring that bacon home to them. That hurdle cleared, the show would air this fall to dovetail with Election Day.

I can see the headlines now. "U.S. economy on the rebound as new reality TV show airs." Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader is a guest on the first episode.

The anti-war candidate sets the stage for interviews with and profiles of ordinary Americans working at ordinary jobs without health benefits. There are hordes of them in the land of democracy and freedom. Let right-wing talk radio respond to that if its hosts can find the time from bashing Democrats.

Picture this expose. "Do you have health insurance?" the hospital admitting clerk asks a 40-ish security guard doubled over in pain from kidney stones. "No" is the reply.

The camera pans the waiting room. Young and old are there, pink and white collar workers. Some of them are in obvious anguish.

A few hours of medical treatment later and the guard feels better. The stones have passed. However, the patient is unaware of being charged many times more for the services rendered by the hospital than it bills patients with health insurance.

A week later the security guard gets a bill for medical treatment that is over $8,000. That amount represents nearly half the worker's annual income. Some viewers who earn similar wages without health benefits may see themselves in the worried face of the guard.

A graphic appears on the TV screen. A narrator speaks: "Wal-Mart provides company-paid health benefits to 47 percent of its 1.2 million employees in the U.S. The company is the nation's biggest employer."

After a break, the camera focuses on a doorbell being rung. "Who is that?" a child says from the other side of the door. "Be quiet and come over here with me," responds the security guard.

The TV camera closes in on the adult and kid. They sit silently on a couch as the bill collector knocks loudly, "rat-a-tat-tat." An envelope slides under the door.

Viewers' moral outrage rises as the guard reads the mail. The flesh and blood of the health care crisis in America is becoming more real on the TV screen. Such is reality in this country where labor unions are weak and the people's welfare state is weakening.

One result is lousy jobs such as the security guard's that pay around $9 an hour. The guard earns about $18,000 a year. That is roughly the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Princeton economist Paul Krugman recently noted the trend of cheap labor during the Bush jobs boomlet. In his New York Times column of July 6, Krugman wrote "government policies could do a lot about the failure of new jobs to come with health benefits, a huge source of anxiety for many American families." He is not a radical, but a reformer.

Thus Krugman backs a health care policy proposal by John Kerry. On one hand, it would shift some of the money from Bush's tax cuts for the rich to the working majority to pay for their health care. On the other hand, the delivery of health care would remain under the control of HMOs and insurance companies.

As guests on "Hired Without Health Care," Krugman and Nader could debate corporate control of health care in America. Nader teaches viewers how and why tax dollars fund health care at a lower cost for universal coverage in Canada, Mexico and Europe than the private companies do for some Americans. Most viewers probably do not know this.

Blame American journalism. It has kept them ignorant about their health care versus health care in other nations. Moore's new show could educate viewers on that subject.

Reality TV gets real!

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive paper. He can be reached at:  ssandron@hotmail.com.

Menopause Red 13.Jul.2004 18:26

George Bender

If you're working-class, you need government-paid health care more than the rest of the population, because you're less likely to have employer-paid medical insurance, have no job security, and don't make enough to save money or buy your own medical insurance. I don't like the tax load we're carrying either, or the shift in that load from business and the wealthy to individual taxpayers, but it is in our self-interest, as working-class people, to vote for taxes that support government medical insurance programs.

THere's enough tax money already to pay for healthcare 13.Jul.2004 22:14

Menopause Red

Maybe the GOv K could take some of the tax money he spends flying his entourage aroung the world to "promote Oregon to businesses" (and develop jobs here with no health care) and spend it on Social Services. Even Kerry plans to dump the problem of unemployed uninsured on the States. It's a good think Portland parks are nice because many of us will be living in them soon. HOw bout the millions NIke pays to HighSchool pituitary cases? How bout they open a free clinic at Nike Town. SOmething is wrong alright. I paid my taxes last year: on my unemployment insurance and on my house that I'll probably lose this year. George, I don't mind paying taxes, but we're not getting much back, are we?