Sunday, December 13, 2009

More Profits, Less Welfare

Lucienne Bloch, Land of Plenty, woodcut, ca 1935.  Lucienne Bloch was in the WPA and worked with muralist Diego Rivera in the 1930s.

While Congress is working on half-measures to reform the US system of health insurance, I ran across these news stories about how our health care and welfare systems are working.  We always hear myths about America's systems of health and welfare:  You can depend on health insurers to protect your health.  Anyone can get the medications that they need.  America wouldn't let children go hungry.  The reality is anything but.

Aetna Is Forcing 600,000-Plus to Lose Coverage in Effort to Raise Profits

In a third-quarter earnings conference call, officials at Aetna announced that the health insururer is planning to force up to 650,000 clients to drop their coverage next year in order to raise to meet profit expectations.  They predicted that the company would lose between 300,000 and 350,000 members next year from its national account as well as another 300,000 from smaller group accounts.  Aetna's third quarter earnings were up 26 percent year over year, but if they price more families out of insurance, they can do better.

Unburied Bodies Tell the Tale of Detroit -- A City in Despair

Things are bad in Detroit.  The murder rate is soaring. The school system is in receivership. The city treasury is $300 million short.  The city cannot reliably provide rubbish collection and other basic services. Thousands of houses are abandoned.  Entire shopping districts lie boarded up.  Auto manufacturing plants have been abandoned for years.

Can it get worse?  It just did.  People are dying from their poverty, and not even receiving burials.

In June, the $21,000 annual county budget to bury Detroit’s unclaimed bodies ran out. Many there cannot affort to bury their family members, and the city managed to provide burial in the past. Now that the city is in financial straits, the bodies are piling up in the morgue now.
What has alarmed medical examiners at the mortuary is that most of the dead died of natural causes. It is evidence, they believe, of people who could not afford medical insurance and medicines and whose families can now not afford to bury them.
Many people cannot afford health insurance ... and they are dying because of it.  Does anyone doubt that the US needs national health insurance for all the people?

The Safety Net Is Failing Needy Americans

Four organizations -- The Institute for Policy Studies, the Center for Community Change, Jobs With Justice, and Legal Momentum -- have released a study showing how the nation's social welfare system is failing millions of Americans during the Great Recession, just as the need is greatest.  Here are highlights from Battered by the Storm: How the Safety Net is Failing Americans and How to Fix It.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) is supposed to be our nation’s last line of defense against falling into the depths of poverty.

Yet this program is so deeply inadequate that by 2008, the number of needy children receiving TANF fell to only 22 percent. Under the pre-“welfare reform” system of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in 1995, 62 percent of poor children were benefiting. Eligibility criteria are set at sub-poverty levels in some states, making poor children ineligible, and barriers such as lack of childcare and lack of access to employment have further kept poor children from receiving desperately needed economic assistance that a system such as TANF should provide.
The food stamp program is doing better, because it has responded to growing need by reaching more households.  Sadly, the average monthly benefit per person is only about $100.  The report asks: "How can our children be happy, healthy, and adequately nourished on that?"

The reason for this human misery lies in the political trend of the past 30 years that has benefitted the wealthiest Americans while reducing wages and increasing poverty for the rest.  With the onset of the Great Recession, we are seeing more poverty and likelihood of reprecussions for years to come.

Henri Matisse, Icarus