The U.S. Can Afford Healthcare for all

By Jill Furillo, RN, NYSNA Executive Director

When you look beyond the homeless, among them 20,000 children in New York City alone, beyond the hardship of elderly women from whom $75 in monthly food stamps – a week’s groceries – was “sequestered” away this year, and look past smoldering forests where firefighters died, their ranks depleted by layoffs from blistering budget cuts, what you see are piles of cash.

U.S. corporations, excluding the banks, have a staggering $2 trillion in cash, according to the Federal Reserve, a historic high. And when you add worldwide holdings, the figure more than doubles, says the IRS. A “$5 Trillion Stash,” headlined The Atlantic magazine. This historic hoarding, the sidelining of capital essential to rebuilding a productive economy, is a national disgrace.

To put it in perspective, our total annual national healthcare expenditure is $2.7 trillion. Do the math. America’s richest shareholders – the 1 percent – have set aside a sum equal to almost two years of healthcare. In just one year, 2012, 80 million Americans did not make a recommended doctor visit or fill a prescription because they could not afford it, a Commonwealth Fund survey found. This economy, a juggernaut of inequality, is doing us in.

Greed run amok

The hoarders are insatiable. Income of the 1 percent rose 31 percent between 2009 and 2012, while the income of the bottom 40 percent fell 6 percent.

New York stands out in this diabolical undoing. Income inequality is greater in New York State and in the New York City region than in any other state or metropolitan area in the country, according to the Census Bureau. New York City is now dubbed the “Inequality Capital of America,” says Huffington Post. Mayor Bloomberg leaves office with personal wealth of $27 billion, New Yorker magazine reported, much of it derived from providing financial information services to Wall Street. Those are the “financial engineers” we bailed out with tax dollars five years ago, but from whom a promised recovery in the vast majority of our communities has yet to materialize.

Corporate aid

The lowest corporate taxes in two generations plays an important part in corporate cash hoarding. The average effective tax rate for U.S. corporations was 12.1 percent in 2011 (the latest available figure), bringing the rate to a 40-year low. Since 2009, when Wall Street paid itself $140 billion in bonuses with our tax dollars, 10,000 public employees have been laid off each month, mass public layoffs that continue today.

Hospitals have a role in this historic cash hoarding, with hospital corporations and nonprofits alike operating as profit centers.

Time magazine reported that hospital equipment manufacturers, suppliers, and drug makers routinely gouge the healthcare system, with charges in many multiples of those in other industrial countries. “If we paid what other countries did for the same prescription drugs, we would save about $94 billion a year,” said Time. No wonder healthcare companies are ablaze on Wall Street, where their mergers and acquisitions mount. For the hoarders, healthcare is just another source of cash.

As we know, hospital CEOs get their share. At Montefiore and Presbyterian, CEOs pocket more than $4 million a year each, with other executives in our hospitals taking home more than $1 million a year.

Pressures continue to mount to raise revenue at our hospitals, to do our share for corporate hoarding. For patients, the price is quality of care. That’s not a price we can pay. We held the line in Brooklyn and we will continue to hold the line wherever we are unified and ready to act. Let the hoarders beware.

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