Privatization a mortal threat to humanity

In his 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush defended the Republican Party’s fundamental aims when it comes to health care: privatization and profit.

Bush said, “A government-run health care system is the wrong prescription. By keeping costs under control, expanding access, and helping more Americans afford coverage, we will preserve the system of private medicine that makes America’s health care the best in the world.”

Never mind that over 43 million people in the U.S. lack any health insurance, and if it were not for Medicare, Medicaid, publicly-owned county hospitals, VA hospitals, and other government-run services, millions would lack any health care whatsoever. Yet these are the very programs in Bush’s crosshairs.

Bush’s hostility to anything that even hints of publicly-financed or socialized health care delivery is driven by two forces: greed and right-wing ideology.

On the greed side, Bush’s moves to privatize the multi-billion-dollar Medicare program, for example, keep the insurance companies, the for-profit health care providers, and the pharmaceutical giants happy, and guarantee their continuing contributions to GOP campaign coffers.

On the ideological side, Bush’s attack on publicly-funded health care programs reflects the GOP’s more general attack on all government programs that benefit working people. It was Grover Norquist, an ideological guru of the Reaganite revolution, who said, “My goal is to cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Needless to say, Norquist wasn’t talking about slashing the Pentagon’s budget or trimming government handouts to big corporations. He was taking aim at programs like welfare, Medicare and Social Security.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialist countries – along with their free, socialized health care services – in the early 1990s emboldened these right-wing ideologues and has spurred their war on all public services in the U.S. and elsewhere.

However, it is instructive to look at the actual result of the changeover from socialist to capitalist health care. One word describes that result: catastrophe.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (Feb. 13) sheds light on Russia’s health. Soviet health care, once free and of good quality, has been replaced by a barely-funded Russian health care setup that is failing the vast majority. Only the newly rich, who can afford to buy insurance and private health services, have anything close to adequate care.

The article quotes a Russian physician, Galina Zuikova: “Earlier [meaning during the Soviet period], women who gave birth were healthy, but now every other woman has some sort of pathology.” Zuikova said heightened stress, unemployment and poor nutrition have contributed to an increase in hypertension, kidney disease and infections for her patients. Newborns are at much greater risk.

Living standards for Russia’s workers and farmers have sharply dropped under capitalism, and health problems have correspondingly skyrocketed. The article says that national health care spending is falling, Russians are dying younger and birth rates are declining.

Other studies have noted the re-emergence in the former USSR of epidemics of antique diseases like diphtheria, polio, typhoid, cholera, and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. In 2000, UNICEF declared Russia was undergoing “a societal crisis of unexpected proportions and unknown implications.” The average life expectancy for Russian males, for example, has plummeted from 64 years in 1990 to 58.5 years today, the lowest in the developed world.

The WSJ article states, “Every year nearly a million more Russians die than are born” – an astounding population decline for any industrial or near-industrial country. An earlier WSJ article (Feb. 4) says that demographic experts predict Russia’s population will drop by an incredible 30 percent over the next decades.

Conditions in the other former Soviet republics are much, much worse, leading to a surge of emigration to already problem-wracked Russia.

The fight to preserve publicly owned national health services and systems is being fought on all continents. The Bush administration with its IMF and WTO surrogates is demanding that governments privatize their health systems, even though the evidence points to the disastrous consequences of doing so.

Defeating this drive to privatize health care is literally a matter of life and death.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.