In 21st Century America bad luck, bad health–or an accident–can kill ya.
Despite multiple surgeries and an extended stay in the spa-like University of Pennsylvania animal hospital, thoroughbred racehorse Barbaro died. A Kentucky Derby winner, a sure thing to win the Preakness, he suffered three broken bones in his right hind leg. Most horses are put down when similarly lamed. Chances of survival are so slim it’s kinder to put them out of their misery. But Barbaro was different. He was worth a fortune. Months of specialized treatment–and the staggering cost of such care–were deemed appropriate. Necessary. Pound for pound, this was horseflesh worthy of extreme measures. Whatever he needed. Whatever the cost.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, roughly 46 million Americans have no health insurance. None. Millions more are underinsured, unable to get–or afford–supplemental policies to offset the cost of catastrophic illness. Businesses are cutting benefits to protect profits while their upper management guys make record-high salaries. The average CEO of a Standard & Poor’s 500 company made $13.5 million in 2005 while a minimum wage worker made $10,700. Even lousy CEOs have done well for themselves, awarded bonuses in the millions for “downsizing”–for laying off workers in the name of corporate profit. For these guys, even failure pays a premium.
In the 1970s an American CEO made 30 times the salary of an average worker. In Japan and Germany they still do. But not here. In the good old USA a CEO now makes 400 times what the rest of us do. That’s some mighty expensive horseflesh. “Average Joe” and “Average Josephine” work a full year to earn what Big Boss Hoss makes in a single day.
Last year our nation’s largest employer offered health insurance benefits to fewer than 45% of their employees. 46% of the children of their 1.3 million employees were uninsured or on Medicaid. The company’s corporate profit for one year? Around $10.5 billion.
You can’t blame big business types for wanting to make big bucks. They feel entitled to it. Maybe they are.
You can’t blame Barbaro’s owners for trying to save their horse. His injury, his treatments, his death, were Breaking News stories on major outlets. America prayed for that horse’s recovery, grieved at his passing. We are a nation of animal lovers.
But something’s badly skewed in a country where the wealthy spend millions on healthcare for their animals while people–men, women and children–are denied access to simple, standard healthcare; where most of us play healthcare Russian Roulette, one major illness away from losing everything we own. Where pharmaceutical companies price-gouge as a standard and spend more money annually on advertising than on research. Where insurance companies price-gouge with unbridled abandon, refuse to honor valid claims, treat the most vulnerable of their customers as if they were criminals for expecting the coverage they’ve paid for. Where the wealthy go on getting the “benefits” and the rest of us see our own slipping away. It’s rotten. It’s a medical partnership-for-profit-race and these folks just can’t win a big enough purse.
And it’s hardworking, average Americans who are paying the price.
We are the sole industrialized nation on earth without some form of universal healthcare. The cost of our get-it-the-best-way-you-can care, of insurance, of necessary medications, are outdistancing the average American’s ability to keep up. The solely for-profit policies are killing us.
Sadly, none of us is apt to win the Kentuck Derby. Our illnesses, sufferings and deaths are unlikely to make national news. Fair’s fair, however, and it seems only fair that we have an equal shot here. Not to win the race–just to stay in it.