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economic crisis
Healthcare Rally in San Francisco in July, 2008.
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 system ends.
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 capital.
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 article.

From The Editors

It’s becoming more clear that fundamental political and economic change has to take place to resolve the growing economic crisis, and a real mass movement for change is beginning. But history has shown that unless people understand who they’re really fighting and what they’re fighting for, the struggle can’t be successful.

For 40 years, the People’s Tribune has told the truth about how the rule of the corporations in America is destroying the country. The People’s Tribune has striven to be the voice of the movement to end poverty and oppression, and to offer a perspective on who and what the real enemy is and a vision of the society we could have if the people ran it. We need the help of our readers to continue being that voice.

The People’s Tribune is facing a serious shortfall in its funding which threatens to hamper our ability to be a voice of the people. In the next few months, the paper needs to begin raising an additional $1,000 per month on an ongoing basis to continue publishing in its current form and to pursue plans to expand to reach a broader audience. This shortfall is happening at a time when the People’s Tribune has never been more necessary to the struggle.

More and more fighters in various sections of the movement are taking the paper up as their own, writing for it and circulating it. They are using it to win the battle of ideas. If we can unite the people around a vision of a better world and a strategy to achieve it, we can make history. But the paper cannot continue
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