More on Poverty and Health Care

I was not the only person looking at the newly released poverty and health care numbers yesterday. A number of labor activists are using it as ammunition in their activities, people are specifically discussing it in the context of Labor Day, although some cynically say that by the time Tuesday arrives, nobody will care until next August.

Before we begin, today’s economic figures show the American economy grew at an annualized rate of 4% in the second quarter — a pretty good number that exceeded expectations, particularly when you consider the housing sector. Speaking of which, BondDad says that won’t last. Nevertheless, new jobless claims “rose unexpectedly.”

For a very dry but extremely well informed commentary, look no further than the Economic Policy Institute. In fact, they found the figures so interesting and important that they followed up their original comments with “Economy’s Gains Fail to Reach Most Workers’ Paychecks” — the short version is in bullet-points near the beginning for those of you who use economic treatises instead of Ambien. These guys make a living looking at figures like this ([deity] bless them!) and then deciding what impact they will have going forward. Maybe that’s why everybody and their dog is quoting them.

Ezra Klein offers us only a single paragraph, but linked to two more lengthy essays. I must admit a little surprise that Mr, Klein did not focus on the health care aspects of the figures released, but there you are. If I may condense Mr. Klein’s brief missive to a single sentence: How bad poverty is in this country depends entirely how low one sets the “poverty line,” and that number is largely arbitrary.

By way of transition, I offer commentary from Alternet, where staff writer Heather Boushey reminds us that the ability to pay for health care is integral to the issue (Yes, Mr. President, we could all go to the emergency room for routine medical care, but that doesn’t change the fact that we can’t afford it). She points out that over 15% of Americans do not have health insurance at all — employer provided, privately purchased, or government subsidized — a record level. That works out to a little more than one out of every 7 people. If you honestly think a flu pandemic or any kind of epidemic is possible, this number should scare the mucus out of you. Don’t forget to look at the chart on page two, particularly the downward-sloping line representing employer-provided coverage. Given that line, it is easy to see why some politicians think requiring most businesses to provide coverage would fix the problem. However, that does nothing to fix the underlying problem that coverage is too expensive in the first place.

Focusing further on the health care issues, we begin with John Sweeney, who believes “In America, No One Should Go Without Health Care”. And he is right. But remember, by and large the problem is not health care, but the ability to pay for it. He tells us “The annual premium cost for a family health plan has close to doubled since 2000, from $6,351 to an astonishing $11,480. Soaring health coverage costs are crippling U.S. companies’ ability to compete internationally….” Almost $1000 per month, just for insurance! Not including co-payments! Certainly not including deductibles! Do you realize that before the recent minimum wage hike, an employer could easily have spent more money insuring an employee than it paid him in wages? Gee, do you think that might be impacting job creation?

Robert Stein has an item up at The Moderate Voice pointing out what I have been telling you for a few years now, that lack of health insurance is part of a middle class health crisis. And to finish the topic, Eliot Spitzer is threatening to sue the Bush Administration over the new SCHIP rules and zero-interest health care loans. Now, I am more familiar than most people with these loans — I used to work in an office that accepted them. They are normally used for elective procedures that are not covered by insurance: plastic surgery; laser hair removal; vision correction surgery. On one hand, “The room for expansion looks ample, as rising deductibles, co-payments and other costs may force more of the nation’s 250 million people with health insurance to finance out-of-pocket expenses for even basic medical care,” but on the other hand “The zero-interest plans are not for everyone. In fact, they are available only to the creditworthy — meaning they offer no help to those among the nation’s 47 million uninsured who are in difficult financial situations.”

In closing: I was going to say something about Katrina, but JurassicPork said it all; Terrorism and Democrats; when FDR said that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he meant at least in part that the first step in handling any terrifying situation is keeping your wits about you; finishing a little terror trio, interesting “facts” about Bruce Schneier (don’t know who that is? he’s a security expert and author of Beyond Fear; and finally, a little problem with farm subsidies.