The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Editorial:
Growing medical care crisis
– and there’s no good reason for it

Jul 10, 2006

Forty-seven% of all workers in private industry were not covered by health insurance in 2005. That’s right, 47% – almost half – had no coverage whatsoever for their medical needs. This translates into 45 million people. And it’s rapidly getting worse. In 1990, only 25% working in private industry went without coverage.

Most of those who do have coverage pay through the nose for it: on average about $273 a month in premiums for a family – not counting deductibles on payments for services, co-pays on services, co-pays on prescription coverage, etc.

For the most part, regular federal, state and city workers maintain their coverage – but they, too, are paying more for it. Plus, government at every level has developed a clever way to dump their responsibilities: contract work. Governments hire contract workers, providing minimal or even no benefits whatsoever. No medical, no pension, no vacation – other than unpaid; no holiday pay even. Technically, according to government lawyers always on the lookout for a new scam to run, they’re not workers – they’re “independent contractors.” Self-employed business people – just like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. With only a hundred billion or so difference in wealth!

But, at least, there’s Medicare! Yes, and so what? The part of his or her income that the average retiree pays today for medical care is greater than what the elderly paid in the days before Medicare.

What’s the leading cause of bankruptcy today? Medical bills – including for many who had medical insurance, at least when their illness began. In just one year alone, 2001, a little more than two million people were driven into bankruptcy by medical bills.

The U.S. spends more than twice as much per person on medical care as any other country – but its population gets far less back for it. Less coverage – and much worse health. On almost every measure, the U.S. is far down the list of countries for its population’s health. Most of the problems come from not getting regular check-ups, not having a doctor who follows your health and advises you as you go along to change certain habits, not having the money to see someone when you are sick, etc. etc. etc.

The “best country in the world,” as politicians loudly trumpet? Far from it. It’s the wealthiest country in the world – but its wealth does not go for improving the situation of its people. It goes to improve the wealth of a tiny handful of people. The big medical care providers, insurance companies, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies have all seen double digit increases in their profits from one year to the next. They are accumulating still more wealth off inferior medical care.

U.S. capitalism’s failure to provide medical coverage to its population stands as an indictment of the whole system. This economy – the biggest and most powerful in the world – has the means to provide the coverage. It chooses not to do so.

The choice of what should be done in this country cannot be left in the hands of people who use profit as their guide for what to do. Working people who build everything, produce everything and provide the services needed are the ones who must decide how the economy should run. But to do so, the working class has to take power away from those who wield it for personal gain.