Saturday, April 28, 2007

Today’s Health Care System: A Bitter Pill to Swallow

Note: This was originally published in a Disability Rights newsletter at the end of 2006 or early 2007

We have a health care system based on profit. This should scare the beegeebers out of us and stop each and every one of us in our tracks. It's scarier than all the dooms day dogma we hear about on the news. Decisions about the tests used to diagnose us, the drugs we take, the surgeries we need, and every other healthcare service is dictated by the bottom line - on who can line their pockets on our backs. So-called non-profit hospitals and clinics must keep up with their competition by buying the newest high tech machines, specialize in medical cash-cows like cancer, heart disease or birthing centers and then spend millions on advertising why they should have our business.


For people with disabilities, it's a double whammy! Not only do we share the same crisis as people without disabilities, but we face institutional care if, god forbid, we cannot purchase the supports we need to stay out of institutions. All the logic in the world cannot explain why state and federal safety-net programs continue to pay for the most costly, most dehumanizing care when it costs significantly less to live in the community with support, unless---you follow the money. Then the fog clears, and what was hidden comes into the full light of day.

Corporations Reign Over Disability Policy in America

In her breathtaking analysis on this subject in her book, Beyond Ramps , Marta Russell writes: "The question for the entrepreneurial nation remained, what to do with the "unproductive", those not exploitable as laborers? And ultimately, how can people with disabilities be made of use to the economic order? The solution has been to make disablement big business."

She calls this the Money Model of Disability. People with disabilities are commodities. Social policies are born and die based on market value. Institutionalization is the corporate response to disability. We are "commodified", we are part of the gross national product, much like housing starts and the price of corn.

Eight years ago, when Russell wrote Beyond Ramps, each person with a disability generated from $30,000 to $82,000 in annual revenues. While I don't have today's number, it has to be much more.

Follow the Money

So far in 2006 the Illinois hospital and nursing home industry has contributed over 1.4 million dollars to state and local campaigns, health services nearly a half-million, health professionals (our doctors and pharmacists) nearly $600,000. That's not counting the insurance industry, non-profits, PACs, drug companies, welfare and social work organizations.

Federal campaigns reap a much larger harvest. Health professionals and their PACs, so far this year, donated over $34 million to political campaigns, five million from HMOs, $8.6 million from hospitals and nursing homes and $12 million from drug companies (so far in 2006). Count on it, there will be more.

What does all this money add up to? Influence. If we've learned anything from the Jack Abramoff scandal, it's that money buys you a lot of face time with legislators. Their lobbyists, their issues move higher up the influence chart the more money they give. It's a new twist on supply and demand theory. They provide an endless supply of money. Our legislators demand money to run their campaigns.

What to do?

How do we fight corporate giants and end our own exploitation at their hands? There are several things we can do. We need to realize that simply talking to a legislator about the right thing to do, while important, won't solve the problem. We need strategies that circumvent money. We need to be in the streets, taking our issues directly to the people. Much like the fight for civil rights in the 50's/60's.

Some Action Steps

1. Read Beyond Ramps: Disability at the End of the Social Contract, by Marta Russell. ISBN 1-56751-106-6. $18.95. Buy it if you can, she deserves the royalty. You can get it a little cheaper by using online booksellers like overstock.com. Ask your family, friends, and co-workers to read it too. Once you get good and angry…

2. Become active in your local disability advocacy group - or organize one (CCDI and ADAPT can help you do this).

3. Get politically active. Register voters. Talk about our issues, whenever and wherever you can.

4. Support regulatory oversight of the healthcare industry.

5. Support campaign finance reform.

6. Fight corporate subsidies.

7. Work for electoral reform. One person-one vote and proportional representation.

8. Fight for living wages and income maintenance. There must be a standard of living that no person should fall below.

9. Make the term "single-payer universal coverage healthcare" your mantra.

10. Call out the for profit system. There are reasons why our health care system doesn't meet our needs. We are people not commodities.

Most importantly, don't be defeated by the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" line used on so many of us. This isn't about any weakness inside you. There's an entire system out there holding you and your brothers and sisters with disabilities underwater and at times gasping for breath. Be proud and "fight like hell for the living.*”

*Quote from Mother Mary Jones, the woman that U.S. President Calvin Coolidge called the “most dangerous woman in America” because of her work with coal miners in the early part of the 20th century.

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