Health care for all protest outside health ins...
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AskCherlock recently received from a reader a copy of a letter sent to President Obama, concerning the “health care crisis” in America.  The letter was sent by an emergency room physician, who talked about a Medicaid (i.e. welfare) patient he had recently treated.  He described the patient as being covered in elaborate tattoos, wearing expensive designer clothes, sporting a new cellular phone, and bearing a shiny golden tooth cap.  The patient informed her doctor that she smoked over a pack of cigarettes per day,  ate only at fast food establishments, and enjoyed drinking alcoholic beverages.  In short,  this Medicaid patient found it perfectly acceptable to spend money on luxuries and vices while refusing to take care of herself or purchase health insurance.  The physician concluded that the  health care crisis was not so much the result of a shortage of medical personnel or facilities, but rather a “crisis in culture”;  a culture based on the irresponsible credo that “I can do whatever I want to because someone else will always take care of me”.  In the end of his letter, the physician concluded that once you fix the culture crisis that rewards irresponsibility and dependency, you’ll be amazed at how quickly our nation’s health care difficulties will disappear.

This, of course,  is not a new argument for changing the way America deals with the issues of public welfare.  It has been widely known and well documented for many years that there is an element within our society who take advantage of the welfare system.  In the State of Pennsylvania (and probably all the other states), welfare fraud is rampant, and the resources dedicated to uncovering and prosecuting welfare fraud is at an all-time low.  Both case workers and elected officials know full well that billions of dollars in taxpayer money is wasted on fraudulent claims.   By far the biggest part of the public welfare budget goes to supporting Medicaid payments.  Unfortunately, public officials also know that the cost of investigating and prosecuting fraud cases is prohibitively expensive.  Fraud is so rampant, and the cost of prosecution is so high, that taxpayers are (financially) better off tolerating the higher taxes it takes to provide the services.  In a nutshell, “fixing the culture that rewards irresponsibility and dependency” is easier said than done.

There is little doubt that America is in the midst of a “crisis in culture”.  We see it all around us;  from the criminal acts of politicians, to the multi-billion dollar fraud perpetrated by Bernie Madoff;  from the dismal failure of American schools to the spike in the volume of street violence.  However, to blame the crisis in culture on abuses in the public welfare system is missing the point.  Although public welfare is, on its surface, a necessary element of an egalitarian society, it is also, just under the surface, the way the American civilization prevents revolution from within.  It is the way that the productive members of society placate the “underclass”, and deny them the motivation to rise up against those that have something to lose.  As America continues the endless debate on the pluses and minuses of  Medicaid and all the other welfare programs,  we must keep in mind that desperate people will take desperate steps to ensure their survival.  Using the language of Huxley, welfare is the “soma drug” of the masses; the productive among us may not like it, but it sure beats the alternative.

Rich

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10 Comments to “Welfare : The “Soma” of the Masses”

  1. Will says:

    That’s an interesting point, Rich, and an angle that I hadn’t considered on medicaid. In Louisiana, we also have a huge problem of people taking advantage of government programs, and many of these same people are professional plaintiffs in personal injury cases. I’ve always said that the problem with going after them is that you make it harder for the people who are in legitimate need to get help. There may be a way to discourage fraudulent claims, but it won’t be simple.

  2. Ladygoodwood says:

    This is a great post and has some real lateral concepts. I agree with you, those without a dominant voice, without power, find other means of protesting against the dominant administration.
    But this can change – for example’Draft-dodgers’ became conscientious objectors with the evolvement of the peace movement.
    Until minority groups organise themselves into a pressure identity, those who are the have nots, will continue to rile against the systems by whatever means they can.
    In the UK, we have the phonomena of the ‘sink estates’. These are social housing estates where large numbers of the residents live outside the societal norms. The crime rates are much higher, massive unemployment, poor education. But successive govermnents take a punitive approach and fire-fight the symptoms of the problems rather than focus on the real problems and develop long term strategies for social inclusion. My cyncical view is that it costs less to pay welfare than it does to improve schools, housing and employment opportunities. The country cannot afford to ‘engage’ us all.

    Finally, I have to comment on your health care systems as it just doesn’t marry with me how the most wealthy and powerful nation on this earth is unable to provide unilateral health care, regardless of social difference or wealth. There are many downsides today of being a British citizen and living in these islands, however, I still firmly believe our National Health Service is an example to the world and I remain in awe of the forward thinking of Keynes and Beveridge who engineered our post-war welfare state.

    Really enjoyed reading your post and allowing my head to engage with this on a sunny Friday morning.

    Smiles.

  3. Tiffany says:

    I completely agree that Welfare is necessary, yet am also plagued by the “culture crisis” that goes along with it. As you pointed out, it is not only those on Welfare who are responsible for this.

    Over the span of several years, I had worked for two different health insurance companies which provided benefits to medicaid recipients. The lengths that these insurance companies would go to to gain these medicaid members (or more appropriately…. the fee from the state for their coverage) contributes to the abuse of the system.

    One of these companies provided health and beauty items – with a limit of $20 per month. Each person could request items such as toothbrushes, cotton swabs, hand sanitizer, etc. The company had hoped that this benefit would set them apart from their competition. I understand this benefit was necessary and useful for most of the insured – but there were a high number of “abusers” who would continually claim that their toothbrushes never arrived… and would be sent another $20 worth of supplies.

    I understand, these insurance companies are not phased by $20 – but it sure makes me mad….. that I pay good money for these items when others are scamming the system.

  4. admin says:

    Will,
    I think that state governments discovered a long time ago that paying fraudulent welfare claims is cheaper for the tax payers than investigating and prosecuting abusers. This may not always be the case, especially when more and more people discover that the chance of getting caught cheating is minimal. Currently, there is very little incentive for people to be honest. This does not bode well for the future.

  5. admin says:

    Ladygoodwood,
    I have often said that the health care system in the United States is a national disgrace. Although President Obama tried to improve things, his plans were met with huge resistance from the right-wingers and the special interest groups. In fact, the conservatives have threatened to reverse Obama’s health care legislation, should they regain power. Universal health care for countries such as the UK, Canada and the United States should not be a matter of “public welfare” for those that cannot afford it, rather a right of citizenship.

  6. admin says:

    Tiffany,
    Good point. I’m sure there are many, many health-related companies that have a vested interest in maintaining the current, fraud-riddled system of public welfare. They have everything to gain by encouraging a “crisis in culture”. In my opinion, universal health care for all American citizens would have been the best way to clean up the fraud and to reduce costs for all Americans. The conservatives and many blue-dog Democrats have ensured that this won’t happen any time soon. Universal health care will happen, however, some day in the future; it’s inevitable.

  7. Judie says:

    I maintain that much of the fraud goes unnoticed by the mere fact that there is ineffective oversight in government programs. The government would have us believe that underfunding is the problem, but if it would take the time to clean out the deadwood and update its policies, it just might find that there is equal blame to go around when it comes to the fleecing of America.

  8. admin says:

    Judie,
    You are so right. We would probably all be shocked if we knew how much of the “underfunding” of welfare programs was due to fraud.

  9. Tina T says:

    Here in California much of our healthcare system is crumbling under the burden of illegals. At least welfare recipients who are citizens need to show proof of need to receive benefits, not so with illegals. A pregnant illegal is automatically entitled to free prenatal, free formula, etc etc. A legal resident needs to fill out endless forms and show need before given any benefits.

    I don’t know much about our medicare fraud here, but given our welfare system (we’re 1/10 of the nations population and we have 1/3 of the nations welfare claims) I think that it’s safe to say that we have fraud at every level when there is government money being given away.

  10. admin says:

    Tina,
    The situation in California is beyond belief when it comes to illegal immigrants, yet when Arizona tried to deal with the same kind of situation they were skewered by the media. The saddest thing of all, especially for California, is that your taxes that are being spent for welfare payments to illegals are not fraud. Somehow, the people of California decided that illegal immigrants were “worthy” of receiving a piece of America’s wealth. Go figure?

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