Paul and Romney's Half-Baked Health Care

By Sam Uretsky

Congressman Ron Paul has said that the medical needs of the poor can be dealt with through charities, such as churches. Gov. Mitt Romney said that the needs of the very poor are covered by the current social safety net.

They’re both wrong, While Dr. Paul is probably closer to the mark, you have to move up quite far on the income scale to have any confidence in your ability to get medical care when you need it. Someone with Mr. Romney’s income can probably count on having his basic needs met, so he’s probably unaware that you don’t have to be “very poor” to be wiped out by medical costs, Anyone outside the top 0.01% is probably eligible.

Congressman Paul is wrong simply because the churches don’t have the scope to cover the needs of people over a wide enough area. They can do a nice job of raising funds on a local scale, doing things like putting jelly jars on store counters and even holding car washes, but they aren’t likely to raise enough to cover the costs of serious diseases that need the most modern care.

Even with good organization and the ability to reach beyond the borders of the neighborhood, charity may not be enough. In 2010, New York’s St. Vincent’s Hospital, the last major Catholic hospital in the city, closed after 160 years of continued operation. The hospital was $700 million in debt, and had failed to recover even after a chapter 11 bankruptcy. St. Vincent’s had treated a large number of uninsured patients, many with AIDS, which doesn’t need much in the way of high tech treatments, but the costs of the drug refills are enough to ruin most people.

The Northeast has seen a large number of Catholic hospitals close, and while some are choosing to blame President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, St. Mary’s Hospital shut down in 2005, Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center in 2007, and the initial bankruptcy of St. Vincent’s was in 2007. Caritas Christi, a Catholic hospital network in Boston, was sold to a private equity firm. Other Catholic hospitals are blaming their closures on requirements that they provide birth control services and abortions, but the record shows a history of financial problems well before the Obama administration, in a heavily Catholic section of the country. Elsewhere in New York, Brooklyn Jewish and St. John’s Episcopal Hospitals merged as long ago as 1981. Churches have not been a reliable source of health care coverage.

The Social Safety Net hasn’t held up much better. On Feb. 1, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, America’s largest purveyor of pink ribbons, cut off its funding to Planned Parenthood.

The justification was that Planned Parenthood is under investigation by Congress – an investigation initiated by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., asking whether Planned Parenthood is using federal money to cover abortions. Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have all endorsed the Personhood Amendment, which would give legal rights to a fetus and would, in effect, ban abortion. Even in cases of rape, incest, to save the life of the mother, ectopic pregnancy (which would kill both mother and fetus), anencephaly (failure of the nervous system to form so that the infant is born without a brain or lacking major brain structures) or lysosomal storage diseases (a group of conditions, some of which can be detected before birth).

At the same time, Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of gynecologic services, including breast cancer screening, for poor women in the United States. That’s poor, not “very poor” and in low-population states there is simply no provider within reasonable distance.

Neither charity nor the current version of the safety net will assure proper health care, and the Affordable Care Act, which would have improved things somewhat, is under attack.

The 0.01% can take care of themselves; the rest of us should be careful whom we vote for.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2012

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