Crisis spurs need for action

The crisis in everyday living that too many people face in our country generated a national health movement that has been pressuring local, state and national government officials to protect the public's health.

Even before Sept. 11, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) co-sponsored national legislation to help rebuild our public health infrastructure with much needed federal monies for all levels of public health facilities. There wasn't much of a campaign for passage of the Senate bill, in fact, some cynics said that there was no real effort to get the legislation passed.

Those were the days before the Democrats took over the Senate; there was a federal budget surplus; and before Bush's infamous tax policy.

Tuesday, Sept. 11, has dramatically changed the appeal and need for that legislation and its potential passage. A sympathetic front-page Wall Street Journal even brought attention to the legislation.



$1.6 billion for public health

The purpose of this legislation is to buttress the core functions of public health, from tracking communicable diseases, such as influenza and tuberculosis, to discouraging teenage smoking. Public health projects, such as fighting a national trend of obesity and promoting healthier living styles, are also among these functions.

This kind of federal funding would allow public health officials and organizations to engage in health-planning programs that had been eliminated in the for-profit health policy days of the late '80s and '90s. Planned use of public monies is in direct contradiction to the privatization rip-offs and then having 'the market' decide how the remaining health services should be delivered.

But, as you can imagine, when federal dollars are made available, the vultures of the military-industrial complex flex their greedy muscles. And, not to be undone by their trainers, the medical-industrial complex is also hot in pursuit.

Now is not the time to fade from fighting these forces and turn our backs on this federal initiative. On the contrary, the people's health movement must fully engage itself on every level of government to make sure that whatever portion of the $1.6 billion is enacted, and then appropriated, finds itself in the public domain.

The military will seek to take all of the money, for anti-terrorist reasons, such as against biological and chemical warfare. They already have more than enough money in their coffers for that purpose.

Federal monies to help state and local health departments identify and eliminate infectious diseases will objectively help in all such disease monitoring. What is needed is not a one-time federal appropriation to state and local governments, but permanent federal support. It is a fundamental reality that local and state governments will never have enough money through their own taxing abilities to fund the necessary programs.

The Reagan/Bush, and to some extent Clinton, years unloaded federal responsibilities to states. This was a great disaster. We are now on an everyday basis paying the price for these pro-corporate policies.

The tragedy of the World Trade Center could have been far greater had we had to utilize the public health and hospitals systems of New York City. The years of Giuliani's cutbacks of hospital and community health centers' funding, as well as public health in the city schools, left our city in a great fractured and vulnerable position. That is the lesson of privatization of health services.



Political action needed

A national crusade among all health activists is needed to enact a Kennedy Public Health Infrastructure bill that is pro-people. This will be a major step toward a national health system that he has championed since the 1970s. The character of that new system is not set in stone.

It will need public health advocates to keep it public. Keep in mind that Kennedy's partner on the legislation is Bill Frist, a physician and Republican senator from Tennessee, the heir to the for-profit mega-hospital system Health Corporation of America and its hybrids. Get the picture?