Capitalist rulers’ health ‘care’ system is disaster for workers

By Janet Post
December 21, 2020

Little better prepared for the surge in coronavirus infections than in the spring, the capitalist rulers organize their health care industry on the basis of what’s profitable, what best puts them in a position to compete with their rivals, as opposed to how to provide actual health. Current rising fatalities are a product of the normal operation of the for-profit health industry. 

Some 1.5 million people have died from the coronavirus worldwide and 281,199 in the U.S. as of Dec. 6. 

Over decades thousands of hospitals and medical clinics have been closed. Prescribed medicines, marketed as commodities instead of being used as life-saving tools, are sold at prohibitively high prices. Tens of thousands of young people willing to train as doctors and nurses are turned away from universities. The disastrous conditions in nursing homes that resulted in 40% of all deaths from the virus in the U.S. have changed little in eight months. 

A record 101,000 seriously ill COVID patients are in hospitals. In New York City retired nurses are being offered as much as $100 an hour to return to work. 

Even though there are more medically tested ways to treat and ameliorate COVID-19 after almost a year of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and all hospitals tell people who are getting sick to go home, see what happens and only come in if they can no longer breathe properly. 

As hospitals and intensive care units get close to full capacity in several states, bosses are readying “crisis-care standards,” another term for triage — deciding who will get treatment and who will be left to die. In North Dakota the authorities’ “plan” involves no resuscitation for patients in cardiac arrest in hospitals or by paramedics in the field. If overrun, the Florida Hospital Association has a scoreboard for deciding which patients to admit. It includes checking the conditions of their organs, whether they have dementia, or other conditions. If “scores” are still tied, the patient’s age is a “tiebreaker” for determining who gets turned away. 

“I can’t deal with those patients that need me when they come in with acute heart failure,” Dr. Shane Wilson of the Scotland County Hospital in Missouri told ABC-News Dec. 3. “We don’t have the staff for it.”

Meanwhile, capitalist politicians and the media broadcast endless examples blaming working people for the spread of the virus — from going to see family to not wearing masks or not being six feet apart, taking the heat off the government and hospital and health insurance bosses. 

They make no pretense of following these guidelines themselves. California Gov. Gavin Newsom told working people to stop using restaurants and then went out to eat at the upscale French Laundry eatery in Napa. 

In a frenzy of competition, pharmaceutical companies are scrambling to beat each other in winning approval for their vaccine. Many of them were advanced billions of dollars by governments to cushion any financial losses. Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca-University of Oxford and others will reap billions in profits. CVS and Walgreens pharmacies are guaranteed big profits after they were chosen by the government to administer shots.

While the giant pharmaceuticals claim the vaccines are public domain and government controlled, AstraZeneca doses are already headed to private market as soon as March in India. Those with cash can buy life-saving medicine and those without will go without. 

If Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use, inoculations could begin within 24 hours. But estimates of vaccine delivery under the government’s Operation Warp Speed were downsized after problems with the pipeline of raw materials and vaccine impurities.

The Associated Press reported that the Russian government began inoculations on teachers and doctors Dec. 5 after the Sputnik V vaccine was “tested in only a few dozen people.”

The government of the U.K. began its immunization program Dec. 8, but has only ordered enough of the vaccine for 20 million people so far, in a country of 68 million.

In the U.S., state governments will decide the “order” of vaccinations, with guidelines from the CDC, which has yet to make recommendations. Its director, Robert Redfield, urged the CDC to “prioritize the elderly,” who are most vulnerable. But other officials disagree, arguing that “essential workers” should get the first shots. For the government, the highest priority is the Defense Department to ensure the military doesn’t skip a beat in defending the interests of U.S. imperialism. The expected first shipment of 3.2 million doses will fall far short of inoculating 21 million medical workers.

Example of Cuban Revolution

Health care is addressed very differently in Cuba, where working people made a popular revolution in 1959, establishing a workers and farmers government. 

They rebuilt health care after thousands of doctors whose main motivation was lining their own pockets fled to the U.S. They organized the training of large numbers of medical workers who operated out of facilities located in working-class neighborhoods where they lived. The treatment they provide is not a commodity to be sold at a profit but a right available to all who need it, free of charge. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic medical students and other volunteers have mobilized to visit every resident on the island to check if they have symptoms, and if so ensure they rapidly get treatment. As of Dec. 7 the government says only 136 people in a country of 11.3 million have died from contracting the virus, one of the lowest rates in the world. 

Since the opening of the revolution, the island’s medical workers have volunteered around the world to bring care to others who need it. Today they are working in some 40 countries, saving lives and slowing down the spread of the virus. Last month, when the Italian government asked the Cuban government to send more medical volunteers, as was done in the spring, Havana responded rapidly sending a further 60 health care workers. Cuba’s medical volunteers are willing to go wherever they are needed, regardless of the politics of the government of their destination.

Despite rising shortages and other hardships confronting the people of Cuba as a result of Washington’s decadeslong economic war, the country’s own COVID-19 vaccines will be distributed to the entire population through the same mobilizations that have been the foundation of health care throughout the revolution since 1959.