The Poor, The Adrift, The Uninsured

by dday

We interrupt yesterday, today and tomorrow's media soccer scrum ("Does Ellen DeGeneres Think Michael Vick Should Agree With Joe Wilson About Health Care?") to bring you the consequences of a Gilded Age economy:

The U.S. Census Bureau has just announced that the poverty rate for 2008 was 13.2%. This means the number of people in poverty has increased by about 2.5 million, to 39.8 million. To give you some perspective, 2.5 million is more than the number of people who live in Detroit and San Francisco combined.

The Census data is just devastating, particularly when you take into account that the numbers come before the job loss in the first 8 months of this year. In addition to the uptick in the poverty rate, real median household income fell 3.6%, the biggest drop in 40 years. The richest tenth of one percent saw their incomes rise by 35% over the last 10 years while median incomes stayed flat. And the number of Americans lacking health insurance increased by about 700,000 to at least 46.3 million, which does not account for the under-insured. In fact, if it wasn't for government programs, this number would be far worse.

Things would have been worse but for one thing: continued expansion of government-provided health insurance coverage. Between 2007 and 2008, the proportion of Americans reporting any private coverage fell by 0.8 percentage points, from 67.5 percent to 66.7 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage reporting some form of government coverage rose by 1.2 points, from 27.8 percent to 29.0 percent [...]

First, the absolute number of uninsured has increased. Second, employer-based coverage is eroding. Third, adverse trends in private coverage are partly masked in the overall numbers by the rise in public coverage.

Fourth, improved insurance coverage among children--thanks largely to Medicaid and SCHIP--is more than offset by increases in the number and proportion of uninsured working-age adults. As shown in the final column, the number of uninsured adults increased by almost 9 million in nine years. Since working-age adults are much more likely to actually get sick, this is a significant economic and public health concern.

Yes, it's been government - eeevil, socialist government - which has had to step into the breach and take care of its citizenry amid a failing private market. And that includes your local fire department, increasingly becoming a primary care doctor for millions of Americans.

In 2008, fire departments around the country responded to 15.8 million medicals calls, a 213 percent increase over the 5 million medical runs record in 1980. The combining of cities’ fire and emergency medical services accounts for some of the increase.

But as the logs of a Washington, D.C., fire company show, the lack of health insurance by too many people—especially low-income families—has turned some local fire departments into mobile emergency rooms.

In one 24-hour period this summer, D.C.’s Engine Company No. 10 responded to more than two dozen emergency calls—two fires and the rest were medical emergencies. It is the same throughout the District. The Times reports the D.C. fire department responded to more medical emergency calls per capita than any other in the nation—and most come from poor neighborhoods [...] such calls tie up a community’s resources and cost communities more because so many calls for emergency medical care aren’t true medical emergencies. Also, the increasing reliance on first responders and on 911 also comes at a time when firefighters and paramedics all across the country are being laid off, as the nation’s economic woes place a strain on public budgets. The recession is shrinking our resources and reducing manpower while the demand for emergency medical care is skyrocketing.

Best health care system in the history of man.

This is bigger than just health care, though, and it's driving a lot of the anxiety out there. Recessions are disruptive events, but in previous years quick turnarounds would blunt the pain. More recently, jobless recoveries that last years and years have become the norm, and as a result, people cannot keep up. Inequality has risen to an almost comical degree, while more and more people sit on the other side of a gated community. This breeds anger, unrest, and ultimately enormous amounts of needless suffering.

And as long as government is captive to interests which place their corporate well-being above the well-being of the people, it will remain this way.