Grotesque Health Care

The cruel, cynical grandstanding in the Terri Schiavo case is breathtaking in its hypocrisy. While Republicans in Congress plotted how they could intervene to stop the highly-publicized removal of Schiavo's feeding tube -- first with a subpoena to force the vegetative invalid to appear at a congressional hearing and later with a special bill to invalidate previous Florida state court rulings in Schiavo's case -- Wanda Hudson of Houston watched her 6-month-old baby, Sunny, die in her arms after doctors, against her wishes, removed the breathing tube that kept the infant alive.

As Jon Stewart said on Comedy Central's Daily Show: "If you want to know just how sick you have to get before Congress is willing to do something about it, well, now you know."

Democrats let the Schiavo bill pass rather than risk campaign commercials accusing them of complicity in the murder of Terri Schiavo. Who can blame them? Senate Republicans already had a memo assessing the Schiavo controversy as a "great political issue" that could pay dividends for the GOP. They planned to use it to motivate Christian conservatives against Democrats such as Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who is up for re-election in 2006.

President Bush, who rushed back from his spring break in Texas to sign the Schiavo bill, said he will "continue to stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans." But a few days earlier a Texas judge had signed off on the decision to let Sunny die under the Texas "futile care law" -- a bill that then-Gov. Bush signed into law in 1999. It lets hospitals terminate patients against the wishes of the next-of-kin if the family is unable to continue paying for treatment.

The Institute of Medicine reports that lack of health insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the US. Since Bush took office the number of Americans who are uninsured has swelled by more than 5 million people. Now he's proposing to cut $20 billion from Medicaid and the related State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) over five years. According to Heather Boushey of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, "the cut would make 1.2 million children unable to access the system." (See page 10.)

Tom DeLay has sanctimoniously proclaimed his concern for the well-being of Terri Schiavo, saying he is only trying to ensure she has the chance "we all deserve," the Center for American Progress noted. But the week before, DeLay marshaled a budget resolution through the House that would cut funding for Medicaid by at least $15 billion. When a handful of Republicans joined Senate Democrats on March 17 to restore the funding on a 52-48 vote, DeLay threatened to hold up the entire budget process if the Senate doesn't back down.

Even the current funding level will not help states who are under pressure to cut their health programs for the working poor. Medicaid expenses are rising faster than any other area of state spending. Barbara O'Brien at Mahablog.com noted that Texas knocked nearly 200,000 people off Medicaid rolls last year. Physicians are fighting a plan to move more Medicaid patients into "managed care," the GOP euphemism for rationed health care. In Tennessee, lack of funds forced Gov. Phil Bredeson to retract the TennCare program that covered more than 300,000 enrollees. Mississippi faces a $268 million deficit and West Virginia is more than $100 million short, which state officials say will force "painful cuts," the American Medical Association reported.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist also has been positioning himself in the media as Schiavo's champion. Yet, much of Schiavo's medical care has been financed by $1 million from two medical malpractice lawsuits Schiavo won after her disabling heart attack 15 years ago. Frist has been leading the charge to limit recovery for people who are severely debilitated. If Frist is successful, people like Schiavo will not be able to recover punitive damages, no matter how severe their injuries.

Schiavo, who has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, resides at a non-profit hospice that splits the cost of her care, estimated at $80,000 per year, with Medicaid.

Under the new bankruptcy peonage bill, Michael Schiavo could be forced into bankruptcy if Congress forces him to pay for his wife's life support -- and then he would have no way to discharge the debt.

Expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans without regard to their wealth or employment status is the only "pro-life" health care plan that makes sense for the US. If Congress has to take over the health insurance business and rescind tax breaks for the wealthy to pay for it, so be it.

Iraq War at 2

A caller objected to the headline on the cover of our Feb. 15 issue: "Fog of phony war." The war in Iraq, which marked the start of its third year March 19, is not a phony war, she noted; it is a real war with tragic consequences for American and Iraqi casualties and their families. In addition it drains the US treasury and diverts resources that could be used to address pressing domestic problems.

She's right, of course, though the phoniness David Corn wrote about concerned the lies Bush and his administration told to gin up support for the invasion of a nation that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, despite the White House's attempts to implicate Iraq with al Qaeda. The Bush administration also claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. They brushed aside the reports of United Nations inspectors who declared Iraq didn't seem to have any such weapons. Bush invaded anyway. (See "Secret Plans," page 9.)

Vice President Dick Cheney predicted the Iraq war would last "weeks rather than months." The Bush administration predicted the war would cost US taxpayers $1.7 billion, with Iraq oil revenues paying the rest. Today, the US has spent more than $200 billion to invade and occupy the country.

As of the second anniversary, more than 1,500 GIs had lost their lives and perhaps more than 100,000 Iraqis have been killed by US troops and allies; nobody knows for sure because the Pentagon refuses to count them. The White House had no plan to secure a peace for Iraq.

We mean no disrespect to those who were caught up in the combat operations. We respect the courage and sacrifices of US fighting forces. But for most of us, the war in Iraq is fought by other people, somewhere else. Our taxes have stayed about the same, while taxes for the rich were cut. Gas has gone up in price, but plenty is available for SUVs and other gas guzzlers, if you can pay for it. Veterans will find out how much we value their service when they return.

As for the spreading of freedom, Saddam's secular dictatorship was replaced with a US protectorate that seized Iraq's oilfields and left practically everything else, including power plants and the former Iraqi army's conventional weapons dumps, to looters. Private, no-bid contracts to cronies such as Halliburton have resulted in millions of dollars in overcharges to the US treasury. The Coalition Provisional Authority lost almost $9 billion. Electricity is limited to a few hours a day.

An election was held. Now, despite Bush administration assurances to the contrary, Iraq appears headed for the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic republic. Christian churches and rival mosques are bombed and barbers are assassinated for shaving beards or giving western-style haircuts. Republicans split hairs over whether sodomizing prisoners counts as torture. They don't seem interested in pursuing the cases of 108 prisoners who are known to have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If war is hell, then yes, we have a war in Iraq. -- JMC

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