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Health Care: Real Problems, Fake Solutions

Posted 11/4/2009

Brian Morton's "Poor Health" (Political Animal, Sept. 23) combines excellent sympathies with a mistaken analysis of the forces at work in the current health-care reform debacle. True, as Morton observes, the voice of poor people usually has little impact on our politics. Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that the unvarnished truth is that half the people, 150 million of us, have been disinvited from the party that is supposed to be American society.

The situation with regard to health care is not so straightforward, however. The recent census reported nearly 40 million officially poor people and nearly 47 million people without health insurance. But these two groups do not include the same people. There is some overlap, but Medicare and Medicaid, programs whose effects Morton does not consider, have taken some of the edge off poverty by taking much of the burden of health insurance off poor people, whatever the shortcomings of these programs.

We should thank the social movements of the 1960s, especially the civil rights movement, for making the kick that helped bring Medicare and Medicaid into being. This was a time when poor people--along with working-class and middle-class allies--made their voices heard and had an impact.

So we can see that many of those 47 million uninsured people--and let's not forget the scourge of underinsurance and insurance company practices like rescission and denial of claims--come from further up the social class ladder, mainly from households in the $30-80,000 income range.

And it is these people--along with young people--who are the targets of two of the most hateful proposals being floated in the health-care reform debate: the individual mandate to buy insurance or be fined, and a tax on employment-derived health insurance benefits. These proposals would shift costs onto middle-income people--while the insurance industry and pharmaceutical companies continue to get a cushy deal. Although these proposals were opposed by Obama during the presidential campaign, they both appear to have a good chance of being snuck into our lives under the banner of "reform." Remember "welfare reform"?

Until we eliminate the private insurance industry from the basic health-insurance market and set up a public single-payer health insurance system (enhanced "Medicare for all"), we'll continue to be presented with fake solutions that fail to cover everyone for all medically necessary services, that fail to control costs while attempting to shift costs unfairly, and that try to play different classes and social groups off against each other--this in the service of keeping the private health-insurance parasites in business. "Everybody in/nobody out"--this is the essential first step in addressing the enormous problems in our health-care system.

Bill Harvey
Baltimore

Arts Editor Bret McCabe notes: Approximately one week following the publication of "Last Word," the April 29 feature story about Nathan "Bodie" Barksdale and Kenny Jackson's docudrama project, The Baltimore Chronicles: Legends of the Unwired, former Sun reporter/The Wire creator David Simon contacted City Paper to contest one aspect of the story. In the first paragraph, Barksdale is introduced as "Nathan Avon 'Bodie' Barksdale"--how he and his mother refer to him in the Unwired footage.

Simon consulted his own reporting files on Barksdale, and discovered that in all his police documents, arrest records, and court papers Barksdale is referred to only as "Nathan Barksdale"; in some cases the documents even include the abbreviation "NMN"--"no middle name."

He's correct: In none of the court and legal documents City Paper used in the fact-checking of this article does "Avon" appear as Barksdale's middle name. Furthermore, as the assigning story editor, I never challenged the name that Barksdale used in Unwired.

The inconsistency matters: Since the publication of the City Paper story, Barksdale appeared on the cover of a summer issue of Don Diva magazine (issue 38) as "Nathan Avon Barksdale," Unwired was named "Best Docudrama" at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival program in Los Angles in July, and it was picked up for a March 2010 DVD release re-titled The Avon Barksdale Story%u2013Legends of the Unwired.

City Paper got back in touch with Barksdale through his lawyer to request verification of his middle name, documentation which we have permitted them more than ample time to produce and which has yet to materialize.

As such, City Paper is unable to verify that Barksdale's legal given middle name is "Avon."

Editor's note: Friday, Nov. 6, is the last day to get us your entries in our upcoming Fiction and Poetry Contest. Submission rules are here.

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