Black Children’s Lives Short and Cheap in U.S.

Poverty is closer to the norm in the United States than most Americans realize. “More than half of Americans earn $26,000 a year – barely above the poverty level of $22,000 a year.” Yet the U.S. spends 50 percent more per person on health care than Europe, with deplorable results, especially for Black children.
“Pharmaceutical drugs, as an example, are 40 percent costlier here than anywhere else in the world.”
“The U.S. spends 50 percent more on healthcare than Europe, yet a black child born in Washington D.C. has less of a chance of reaching his 1st birthday, than a child born in Barbados,” Jonathan Gruber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist and adviser to President Barack Obama on the Affordable Health Care Act said this week in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Reflect on that information – we regularly tell other countries how to conduct their affairs and yet it is clear that we cannot manage ours.

In a New York Times article by Sabrina Tavernise quoting census data, she reported: “The number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it…. Minorities were hit hardest. Blacks experienced the highest poverty rate, at 27 percent, up from 25 percent in 2009, and Hispanics rose to 26 percent from 25 percent. For whites, 9.9 percent lived in poverty, up from 9.4 percent in 2009. Asians were unchanged at 12.1 percent.”

Gruber was speaking at an event organized by an independent Harvard book store to publicize his new book Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, and How It Works. He pointed out that the USA has been trying to reform health care legislation for one hundred years – our Congressional representatives are not always the niftiest debaters. And on average the issue comes up every 17 years.

At present more than 50 million Americans have no health insurance – a scary prospect when you consider how much more expensive health care is here than internationally. Pharmaceutical drugs, as an example, are 40 percent costlier here than anywhere else in the world, and law prevents Medicare and Medicaid from negotiating lower prices – an extraordinary situation. In what other sector is negotiation for a better price forbidden? No surprise then that the $800 billion healthcare sector is the most prosperous in the country and recession proof.

This is also the only country in the world, except for New Zealand, that allows prescription drug advertising to consumers.

And so we have a situation summed up well by Professor Allan V. Horwitz of Rutgers University who wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine on February 11, 2009,  “Americans have long craved chemical solutions to their problems of living.” And buoyed by an almost total lack of controls over the pharmaceutical industry’s rapacious marketing and a system that, as Gruber notes, “pays doctors according to how much they give you – the so-called fee per pay system, instead of paying physicians according to the health outcomes of patients,” contributes to increasing, instead of discouraging, ill-health.

The fee per pay system has resulted in ridiculous overtreatment: Los Angeles, as an example, has more MRIs than Canada. This has also become the country with the highest load of prescription drug addicts.  At present prescription drug overdoses are the highest cause of accidental death – 37,000 in 2010 according to the Centers for Disease Control – outranking traffic accidents and death by overdose for all illegal narcotics combined.

Gruber says “a third of what is done [in terms of treatment] is unnecessary.” And yet preventative screenings like pap smears or mammograms are not free and illness places a burden on the economy and families. In 2010 Amnesty International lambasted the United States for a doubling of deaths from pregnancy and childbirth in the past 20 years. In addition, the rights group said, about 1.7 million women a year, one-third of pregnant women in the United States, suffer from pregnancy-related complications, all of which could be avoided by relatively inexpensive free pregnancy screening, something considered a right in most nations of the world, including developing countries.

Gruber claims “there are too many hospital beds in America” yet access is difficult, Gruber points out that, “a rich person pays a quarter of his or her healthcare costs [because their workplace covers them] but the person who works at McDonalds has to buy his own health insurance – he is paying for 100 percent of his healthcare costs.”

Why are Republicans angrily fighting a law that is based on legislation developed by a Republican – 2012 presidential hopeful – Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts? In Massachusetts  the law has been successful in cutting costs and improving care, it has a 70 percent approval rating from citizens. In Massachusetts, 90 percent of citizens are covered by health insurance compared to an average of only 60 percent nationwide, according to Gruber.  Some states like Minnesota are already going ahead and implementing on their own, but most remain aloof.

It seems that the answer to Republican opposition to the Obama plan is thinly disguised racism. Gruber, who worked with Romney to create the law in Massachusetts, and then with President Barack Obama, says, “When it was signed it was a Republican plan. On the platform that day was a right wing guy from the Heritage Foundation who extolled it as an example of the best of Republican government – until Obama showed an interest in it and suddenly it became the devil’s work.”
The arguments rage on within the kabuki court of Democratic and Republican operatives. President Obama rode into the presidency with an overwhelming mandate to fight for single-payer healthcare. Within one year of his presidency, Obama had successfully deconstructed the healthcare argument and confined the architecture of the argument to one palatable to corporate sponsored Democratic and Republican operatives.  More importantly, the president had squandered an historic opportunity to transform a corrupt and inefficient healthcare system.
We must demand a healthcare system that will dispense with the economic supremacy enjoyed by the corporate insurance oligarchy.

See Marsha on C-Span Book/TV

Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA is available through and the National Whistleblower Center. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered vanadium mine workers. Marsha’s successful lawsuit lead to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002.