The rising medical debt crisis

This past month has seen nation wide demonstrations and protests about the impossible-to-pay-off trillion-dollar student debt  that has been foisted upon the youth of this country by banks and lending institutions and other manifestations of the corporate institutions controlled by the 99%. 

But education is not the only sphere in which monopoly capitalism puts its profits before the welfare of the American people. Another area in which the people are mercilessly plundered for corporate profit is medical care. 

Recently ScienceDaily published an article discussing the rising medical debt in the state of California, which can be taken as typical for other states as well (“Medical Debt Keeps Rising, New Report Shows” SD Feb. 6, 2012). The report, from UCLA, reveals that hundreds of thousands of laid off and discharged workers have lost their health insurance as a result of the current depression (AKA “The Great Recession”) and as a result the amount of medical debt in California made an alarming jump.

The report reveals 18.4% of workers uninsured for a year were in debt, 23.2% uninsured for part of the year were in debt and 9.1% of those who had insurance due to employment were also in debt. Obviously, even having insurance through your job doesn’t mean you will be taken care of. Shana Alex Lavarreda, the lead author of this study, was quoted as saying, “No Californian should have to take on debt to pay medical bills or go without access to health care just because they lost their job. As this recession has so clearly shown us, linking health care to a volatile job market puts us all at risk.” 

Of course it’s more than Californians that are at risk-it’s everyone in the US and around the world who should have debt free access to medical care-one of the major demands of the socialist and worker’s movements and of all progressive democratic people.

This brings us to the Affordable Care Act. Dr. Robert K. Ross, the president and CEO of the California Endowment (one of the foundations funding the study), said, “This data clearly indicates the need for successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The rate of uninsured Americans increases annually, and the burden that presents to our care system is economically unsustainable. Health care reform will ensure that many millions of Californians need not fear a potential health catastrophe just because of an economic downturn.” 

This is, as we all know, an election year and medical care for the American people and an extension of insurance to millions of the uninsured, should be of prime concern. Yet the Republican Party, in the face of scientific evidence of the necessity of implementing (and indeed enlarging the scope of) the Affordable Care Act, disparagingly attacks it as “Obama Care” (it is definitely an honor to Obama to have his name linked to an attempt to help millions of Americans get medical care) and want to see this act overthrown or repealed . This is an incredible position for the Republican Party to take, and can only be explained by its complete subservience to the corporate interests of the 1%. The Republicans should be rebuked decisively at the polls for this sell out of the American people.

The report reveals startling figures to back up this assessment. The number of those without insurance living in families considered poor (having incomes under 100% of the federal poverty level) grew to 33.1% in 2009 (from 29% in 2007) and 44.8% of uninsured children and 49.9 % of uninsured adults reported not seeing a medical person in the past year (for those with insurance the figures were 8.3% and 13.4 % respectively). The means, as SD puts it, “Lack of insurance equals lack of care.”

Looking at these figures led Diana M. Bontá, president (and CEO) of The California Wellness Foundation (another funder of the study) to comment that, “This report provides yet more evidence of the need for change of our current system of health care and also of the devastating effect California’s budget crisis has had on the programs that support our state’s most vulnerable residents.” There are many other states besides California facing this crisis. The crisis could be even worse than described here (with figures from 2009) since COBRA has expired (the federal program that helped workers who lost their jobs keep the insurance from their employment).

Photo: Photo: Health care supporters rally outside Supreme Court. March 26. Health Care for America Now (HCAN)



Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins

Thomas Riggins has a background in philisophy, anthropology and archeology. He writes from New York, NY. Riggins was associate editor of Political Affairs magazine.