By Rita Valenti
Capitalism is cascading down hill like an avalanche challenging all
notions of the permanency of the ‘American way of life’. It impacts
every aspect of life, including our deteriorating health care system.
Health care under capitalism had a dual role. It had to maintain an
adequate level of health so workers could be productive on the job. It
also functioned to provide basic health services so the working class
could make and consume commodities. The application of advanced
technologies like robotics and computers to the workplace has thrown
millions out of work. In the last 10 months alone, over 800,000 workers
lost their jobs. No jobs leads to no money for the banks, no credit to
buy goods that are increasingly produced without human labor.
Ultimately, the capitalist reason for having an affordable health care
The new role for health care under capitalism that is dominated by
speculation (money betting on money that has no relationship to value)
is to provide more money for speculation and to funnel money into the
hands of the insurance companies increasingly indistinguishable from
the banks — not to provide health care. There are 47 million plus
without health insurance. Those with employment-based insurance
are paying more for health insurance and getting less. It’s about
circulating capital – not providing health care.
Dumping Health Care for Retirees
Capital’s current mania is to drop health care coverage for retirees.
Workers at General Motors face a decline in their once ‘crème de
la crème’ health care coverage. With the apparent view of
getting out of health care altogether, GM negotiated a Healthcare Trust
Fund (VEBA) to be run by the UAW. The $36 million fund relieves GM of
all future retiree health care obligations. GM retirees are paying a
deductible for the first time since the hard fought plan was one won by
the autoworkers in 1950. New hires at GM will no longer receive
retirement health care and next year, salaried workers will be dumped
from the plan when they reach 65 years of age.
But the mania goes further. One of the first actions taken by the new
private Grady Corporation of Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta which
used to be a traditional ‘safety net’ hospital, was to end retiree
health care benefits for anyone less than 50 years of age and with less
than 10 years on the job, turning the health care workers who served
the uninsured into uninsured patients themselves.
Health Care Working for Capital
(not for us)
For those of us still working, the proposal of the day is Health
Savings Accounts (HSAs). These accounts are employees’ money toward
their health care costs that are invested in the stock market. HSAs are
accompanied by High Deductible Health Insurance plans, with upward
limits of $5600 for an individual and $11,200 for a family. These high
deductibles are incentives to keep your money invested and not to seek
primary and/or other necessary health care. They play roulette with
your family’s health care but satisfy speculative insurers’ need for
The financial ‘bailout’ did more than send our money to Wall Street. It
made clear that the new role of government is to support capitalism at
all costs while our needs go to hell in a hand basket. If there is
money to bail out the banks, if it’s OK to nationalize the banks in
their interest, why not health care in our interest? We are headed into
very turbulent times. Politically we need to be prepared to enforce our
need for universal, comprehensive quality health care for all just as
decisively as they have taken OUR money to support THEIR system.
Claire McClinton, Sheilah
Garland-Olaniran, Ethel Long-Scott, and Joyce Mills contributed to this