The figures are staggering. According to projections by the federal government, the cost of health care will increase by 7.3 percent per year and will, by 2012, amount to 17 percent of gross domestic product, up from 13.3 percent in 2000 when the total cost of health care was $1.3 trillion. (That’s $1,300,000,000,000.)

Add it up: The price of prescription drugs increasing nearly 12 percent per year, hospital costs up 8 percent – and it’s easy to see why analysts predict a 50 percent increase in health care costs over the next three years.

A recent edition of The New York Times documented these increases in an article headlined, “Hard decisions for employers as costs soar in health care.”

In New York City and across the country, public hospitals have been forced to cut back staffing and services, with beds left vacant in newly constructed public hospitals. Since public hospitals are the last resort for the uninsured and unemployed, this has created a major crisis.

Nor are private hospitals immune from potential cuts. But, so far at least, they have been able to fend off the worst because of their political clout.

When these hospitals cry about financing, politicians listen. For example, in New York City, the League of Voluntary Hospitals and its trade association, the Greater New York Hospital Association, said they could not afford wage increases for their employees, that health benefits would be frozen or scaled back and there would be layoffs

The newspaper stories didn’t talk about the million-dollar salaries of hospital administrators. They didn’t talk about the need for greater public accountability that would make for greater efficiency.

So, Gov. George Pataki, looking for campaign contributions in his quest for reelection and jobs for his friends, agreed to a financing deal that every public-health-minded activist and professional opposed. The deal focused on how the monies that the newly-privatized Blue Cross and Blue Shield was supposed to spend on the general public health needs of New Yorkers would actually be spent.

For years the use of that pot of money has been publicly debated. Some states set up emergency health units for the uninsured. Some established public clinics for people in need.

In New York, Pataki simply announced that the lion’s share of that money would go to the private hospitals, with the media focusing on the meager wage increases for hourly workers. So once again the same old, same old: public money for private interests.

Federal money is supposed to fill in the gaps left by this giant give away. But if Pataki loses come Nov. 6, the whole deal could blow up. Even if he wins there are some who doubt that there is enough money to cover Pataki’s gamble. So layoffs, wage freezes and benefit cutbacks may still occur.

The deal was heralded as a victory for the 250,000 members of the National Health and Human Services Union (formerly district 1199), which, in turn, has thrown its political weight behind the Republican governor. The Pataki deal will not solve the national health care crisis. In fact, it won’t even solve the crisis in New York. Everyone knows that.

Labor and community activists need to send the clearest message to all candidates for Congress this year that health-care costs must be reined in and that deals that benefit the private health care institutions, be they hospitals or pharmaceutical companies, are not only not the answer, they make things much worse.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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