Oct 7, 2002
As of October 1, Los Angeles County has closed 11 of the county's 18 health centers and four school-based clinics. In addition, the County Board of Supervisors has voted to cut 25% of its subsidies to private clinics serving uninsured patients.
The clinics that closed down had been receiving about 350,000 patient visits per year. Now the patients will be directed to the seven county clinics which remain open. Each one of these clinics will have to handle almost three times the patient load as before, not to mention the longer distances patients will have to travel to get to a clinic.
By any measure, these closures are a big step towards eliminating L.A.'s public health system. Providing service to anyone who came in, it had been one of the last remaining public clinic systems in any major U.S. city, along with New York. Closing these clinics means eliminating the last resort for many uninsured people, numbering three million in L.A. County alone. Most of the uninsured are workers with full-time or part-time jobs who can't afford health insurance and whose employers refuse to buy it for them.
In other words, this is a major attack on the working class, affecting millions of workers and their family members, especially children. Along with the clinic closures, the county also cut subsidies for child immunizations. Since children have to get immunizations involving several shots to get enrolled in school, this will be a considerable additional expense for families without health insurance.
County officials say they are forced to make these cuts because the county's health budget is running a big deficit. Politicians and officials at the state and federal levels say that their hands are tied, that there is no money.
No money? These sums are a tiny fraction of what the government spends on its wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere. It is also a fraction of what the government – federal, state and local – hands out to big corporations in tax breaks and subsidies – like the billions of dollars the federal government gave to the airlines after 9/11. In California, the state has been handing out billions of dollars to electricity companies since the "energy crisis" two years ago.
No, it's not a question of money. It's a question of priorities.