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Vol. 81/No. 29      August 7, 2017

(front page)

Workers face growing crisis of decline in health care

Riddled with political disagreements, the Republican Party can’t muster enough votes to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which President Donald Trump promised would be one of his top priorities.

Since its passage seven years ago, Obamacare, which includes a more than $2,000 tax penalty per family for any year they don’t buy health insurance — insurance that is becoming increasingly costly — is unpopular among many working people.

Insurance premiums are scheduled to go up further. In Connecticut, for example, insurance company bosses have announced plans to jump premiums by 15 to 34 percent. In Maryland, workers will see increases from 18 to nearly 60 percent.

Whether it’s Obamacare or any of the failed Republican “overhauls” proposed so far, none make any pretense to provide health care for all who need it. All are based on a system of private profits for insurance, hospital and pharmaceutical companies. Many workers face limited options, with plans featuring soaring premiums, high deductibles, and shrinking coverage.

The Senate barely voted to open debate on Republican health proposals July 25, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie. But just a few hours later, their latest bill went down to defeat 57-43. The following day a proposal to repeal Obamacare and come up with a replacement within two years was also rejected.

Meanwhile, the health care crisis facing working people under the capitalist for-profit system continues to worsen, with the rising opioid epidemic, hospital closures and less care across large areas of the country.

Thousands from throughout Appalachia flocked to the annual free clinic set up in Wise, Virginia, July 21-23 for the only medical, dental and eye care they get, unable to afford insurance under Obamacare or qualify for Medicaid coverage. “I really think that they don’t have any clue what’s going on,” auto mechanic Larry McKnight, 37, told the Washington Post, pointing to politicians of all stripes in Washington. “You watch the news and it’s two sides pitted against each other, which in turn just makes them pitted against us, the normal person.” Some 29 million people in the U.S. have no health insurance today.

Rural hospital closures

Among those especially hard hit are some 90 million workers and farmers living in rural areas. Over the past seven years, 80 of the more than 1,800 rural hospitals have closed, with 673 others on the brink. At this rate, some 40 percent of U.S. rural hospitals could be shut in the years ahead.

Deteriorating care has had a big impact on pregnant women and newborns. Between 2004 and 2014 more than 200 hospitals have closed their birthing units. In Texas, just 70 of the state’s 162 rural hospitals deliver babies. Residents in 16 percent of Minnesota’s rural counties have seen maternity care there vanish over the past decade. Overall, 54 percent of rural counties lack hospital-based obstetrics, according to the University of Minnesota’s Rural Health Research Center.

In Cook County, Minnesota, Clare Shirley and her husband Dan had to drive two and a half hours to get to a hospital in Duluth where she could give birth, as the one closer to their home had shut its labor and delivery service. She just made it. This story is typical of the situation facing working-class women who can’t afford to take days off work or stay in hotels near the hospitals prior to giving birth. And it’s led to higher infant mortality rates, longer stays in intensive care units, and more out-of-hospital deliveries.

And there’s a shortage of doctors as many prefer to remain in large cities where pay is more lucrative. According to the National Rural Health Association, rural areas could be short 45,000 doctors by 2020, and specialists are even more scarce.

Drug costs for people under 65 are soaring — up 11.3 percent in 2016 and projected to go up another 11.6 percent this year. Wages are barely rising at all.

Many new drug prices are astronomical. When Gilead introduced its new hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, it set the cost at $1,000 a pill, or $84,000 a year.

The spreading opioid epidemic amid deteriorating health care has reached the point where “four out of five people with opioid use disorder do not receive treatment,” reported the Post.

The Middletown, Ohio, fire department reports that it sends people out on calls for drug overdoses — four to five a day — more often than to respond to a fire. Complaining that the cost of anti-overdose drug Naloxone threatens to bankrupt the city, council member Daniel Picard has submitted a bill that authorizes the fire department to respond if you overdose twice, but not a third time. Strike three and they’ll let you die.

One of the most controversial proposals by the Republican leadership in the Senate was deep cuts to Medicaid, an entitlement program won in 1965 as a result of the massive Black-led proletarian struggle that overthrew Jim Crow segregation. It provides medical care for workers with the lowest incomes and the disabled, covering more than 70 million people, including nearly 40 percent of all children, and half of all births in the country.
Related articles:
Fight for gov’t-funded health care for everyone!
Socialist Workers Party: Health care is a right!
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