Saturday, October 11, 2014

Editorial: Health Obstruction Breeds Contagion

The best thing Americans can do to eliminate the threat of the deadly Ebola virus in the United States would be to hasten the implementation of the Affordable Care Act so that every American with a fever and/or an upset stomach can see a doctor without fear of losing their job or emptying their savings.

Cable TV “news,” according to its business model, has whipped up hysteria over the Ebola threat in the US. Demagogues have demanded that the government stop all traffic with West Africa — which health professionals say is unnecessary and could even make the situation worse.

Thomas Freiden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on CNN Oct. 6 that if those countries with outbreaks were to be isolated, “the ability to stop the outbreak there” would become “very problematic.” If airlines only fly medical supplies and health workers into West Africa, and can’t fly travelers back, those routes quickly become unprofitable, American citizens (including health workers) won’t be able to return to the US and governments in those countries will get less stable, Frieden said.

The facts are that Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national, showed no signs of illness when he flew from Liberia, to Belgium Sept. 19. He appeared well when he arrived at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport Sept. 20 to visit his fiancee. He showed up at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Sept. 25 with fever and abdominal pain but no insurance. He told medical personnel he had recently arrived from Africa, but he apparently did not mention being around sick people. (He had helped take a pregnant neighbor to a clinic in Liberia. She later died and Duncan may not have known she had Ebola.) Duncan was released with antibiotics but his condition continued to worsen and when he returned to the ER Sept. 28 he was placed in isolation. He was diagnosed with Ebola two days later. He died Oct. 8. Officials are watching at least 10 people with whom Duncan had contact before he was hospitalized.

Duncan, as a visitor to the country, probably would not have had insurance anyway (which argues in favor of implementing a single-payer system that covers everybody in the nation). The threat of a contagious disease spreading throughout the population is greatly increased when a major part of the population lacks health insurance and hospitals have to consider how much care they can give the uninsured, since they know a large portion of that care will be uncompensated with fiscal “conservatives” in charge. And a breadwinner with a fever and an upset stomach has to weigh the cost of taking time off to get checked out by a doctor, at his own expense, or going ahead to his job at a restaurant, for example.

Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations writing in the Chicago Tribune Oct. 2, noted that even with the millions who have gained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, 13.8% of Americans — about 43.3 million individuals — still lack health insurance. Millions more have policies whose “copays” for medical services are exorbitant for working people.

“These are the Americans who routinely tough out the flu, fever, aches and pains because seeking medical care is prohibitively expensive. If they become sick enough to feel desperate, the uninsured and underinsured of America go to public hospital emergency rooms for care, where waiting times in often-crowded settings can stretch on for hours. This reality is compounded by a weakened public health infrastructure: 52 health agencies, including 48 states, three territories and Washington, D.C., have reported budget cuts since 2008,” she wrote.

Republican attempts to obstruct the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which is designed to make health insurance affordable to people whose bosses refuse to provide health coverage, greatly increases the risk of an epidemic.

The risk of an Ebola outbreak — which requires close contact with a sick person who is showing symptoms — is relatively small in the United States. The risk of a flu epidemic — which is spread by an airborne virus, requires 200,000 hospitalizations and contributes to the deaths of more than 24,000 Americans a year — is much more likely. Republican obstruction of health coverage makes it worse.

Keep the Senate Democratic

If you are unhappy with President Obama, the last thing you should do is refrain from voting for Democrats in the mid-term election on Nov. 4 — and that goes double in states with hot US Senate races. People on the left who think there is no appreciable difference between Democrats and Republicans and giving the GOP full control of Congress haven’t been paying attention.

When progressives stayed home in 2010 to punish Democrats for not pushing progressive initiatives far enough, Republicans seized power in states such as Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. They then steamrolled Democratic minorities with a right-wing legislative agenda provided by the Big-Business dominated American Legislative Exchange Council that included measures to bust unions, make it more difficult for low-paid workers to get affordable health care, suppress the vote of the working-class and seniors and other affronts to the working class while enriching the corporate class. It might take a generation to reverse those defeats.

Many on the center-left are working to overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision, as well as other rulings by the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court. But that takes two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate and ratification by three-fourths of the states (that is, 38). It’s good to get started on an amendment to challenge corporate personhood but, in the meantime, there is nothing wrong with the Court that a strategic funeral (from natural causes) couldn’t fix. Remove one of the doctrinaire Republican justices and a newly configured Court could revisit the objectionable rulings. However, that only works if Obama is in position to get a replacement choice confirmed by the Senate. That isn’t going to happen if Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is in charge of vetting those nominees at the Judiciary Committee. (Be very afraid if departures from the Court come from among the liberal justices and the right wing doesn’t need occasional voice of reason Justice Kennedy to form a majority.)

Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the Senate, including independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, who caucus with the Dems. Republicans need to gain six seats to capture control of the Senate and Republicans expect to pick up seats from retiring Democratic incumbents in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. Key battleground races include Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina and perhaps South Dakota. Nine of those dozen hot seats are now held by Democrats. Republicans hoped to capture the seat of retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), but Rep Gary Peters (D-Mich) appears to be pulling away from the Republican challenger in Michigan. Democrats in South Dakota also have a good if underfunded progressive populist candidate in Rick Weiland, a former aide to ex-Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) for the seat Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) is giving up. Former Gov. Mike Rounds, the Republican nominee, and former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler, running as an independent, are splitting the GOP vote. Weiland could win it with 40% of the vote — which Dems ought to be able to muster. And at least three incumbent Republicans are threatened. Alison Lundergan Grimes appears to be giving Minority Leader Mitch McConnell the fight of his life in Kentucky; Michelle Nunn (D) is pushing businessman David Perdue, who made his fortune outsourcing jobs, for the Georgia seat of retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R); and centrist independent Greg Orman is leading Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas).

And, for God’s sake, Minnesota, please send Al Franken back to the Senate with a big enough margin that he can feel comfortable using his considerable sense of humor again. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2014
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