Category Archives: socialized medicine

>Yet Another Reason I Don’t Feel Sorry For GM

>I’m sorry, Detroit. I do feel sorry for you. But I don’t feel sorry for General Motors.

I’ve complained about the short-sightedness of General Motors before. The way they scared the unions into backing their campaign against raising CAFE standards was sheer idiocy, for one thing. When they kept manufacturing gas-slurping SUVs when all signals pointed to a shift in market trends, I threw my hands up. It was just suicide.

But yesterday I ran across this tidbit:

General Motors established its pension in the “treaty of Detroit,” the five-year contract that it signed with the United Automobile Workers in 1950 that also provided health insurance and other benefits for the company’s workers. Walter Reuther, the union’s captain, would have preferred that the government provide pensions and health care to all citizens. He urged the automakers to “go down to Washington and fight with us” for federal benefits.

But the automakers wanted no part of socialized care. They seemed not to notice, as a union expert wrote, that if Washington didn’t provide social insurance it would be “sought from employers across the collective bargaining table.”

Oh, yet another dumb move, General Motors! So that’s why we don’t have socialized medicine here. Thanks a lot, assholes!

But it gets worse:

General Motors got into the dubious habit of steadily increasing worker benefits. In 1961, G.M. was able to get away with a skimpy 2.5 percent increase in wages by also guaranteeing a 12 percent rise in pensions. Such promises significantly burdened the company’s future. As workers lived longer, the cost of fulfilling pension commitments rose. And health care costs exploded.

Putting these things off to the future is such a Republican way of doing things; anyone wonder how we’re going to pay for the Iraq War? Well, look in the eyes of your grandchildren (or imagine them if you don’t have any yet). And then apologize, profusely, for saddling them with this debt.

You know, these things always come back to bite you in the ass, as GM found out too late:

In the ’90s, the consequences of maintaining a corporate welfare state became too obvious to ignore. In that decade, General Motors poured tens of billions of dollars into its pension fund — an irretrievable loss of opportunity. What else might G.M. have accomplished with that money? It could have designed new cars or researched alternative fuels. Or it could have acquired half of Toyota — a company that the stock market now values at close to $150 billion.

Well, thank God that didn’t happen. GM in its wisdom would have killed the Prius.

What’s good for General Motors hasn’t been good for America. And it’s just a small piece of a much larger problem, a mindset of irresponsibility that puts off to the future things we’re too chickenshit to resolve today. “I’ll worry about it tomorrow” didn’t work for Scarlett O’Hara and it won’t work for us. It really makes me wonder what problems this country is going to face when our own $3 trillion war bill comes due.

What a phenomenal waste.

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Socialized Medicine Saved My Vacation

I didn’t plan on getting a first-hand look at Norway’s healthcare system my first day on vacation, but that’s what happened after my traveling companion tripped on a circular stairway and pulled a ligament on our first night in Oslo. (And no, alcohol was not involved — but shopping and jet lag definitely were factors).

My friend was naturally upset, not only from pain but also at the prospect of having ruined our vacation. I was naturally concerned as I watched her ankle first turn a shade of green, then purple, that I didn’t know possible for human flesh this side of gangrene. This was a serious injury, I knew, and it required professional medical care.

We taxied to a “legevakta” — an accident-emergency clinic. Start to finish, door-to-door, the entire process took two hours. That included getting checked in, waiting for the doctor, X-rays, treatment, getting a prescription filled, and the taxi back to our hotel. The doctor was very professional and patient; she gave us thorough instructions on followup care, gave my friend a set of crutches and a prescription for pain and inflammation, the clinic called us a cab, and we were on our way. The fee for all of this wonderful service?


This was stunning, since in every other regard, Norway is extremely expensive. Outrageously expensive. My salad at lunch was $30. You could easily drop $50 on a 15-minute cab ride. Heck, it costs $1 to use the public toilet at the warf. But for X-rays, medical treatment, a set of crutches, and an ace bandage, we were charged nothing. In fact, the doctor casually told us we could drop the crutches off at another clinic in Bergen (our next vacation stop), if we happen to be near one.

As for the prescription, it cost just $6 for 21 tablets.

This is amazing to me, since the entire experience would have been so much more expensive and traumatic in the U.S. I’ve been to ER’s and the doc-in-a-box in Nashville, and I’ve never been in and out in two hours. I’m also charged for every single thing: crutches, ace bandage, even the freaking bag of ice –plus another $30 for medication.

While it may be a factor, I don’t think this awesome free healthcare is the main reason everything else here is so expensive. I blame our sucky U.S. dollar for most of that, and also the fact that so much of what one buys in Norway must be imported from elsewhere. Scandinavia has always been extremely expensive (the rule of thumb that the further south in Europe one travels, the less expensive it gets, is still true). Locals I’ve talked to say they pay into the system with their taxes and that makes healthcare more equitable and affordable for everyone, not just the wealthy. This just makes sense. Whether you have cancer or just a sprained ankle, no one should have to forego healthcare because they can’t afford it.

America, get with the program. Figure it out, already. The system we have is just insane, and it’s entirely unworkable. It’s never made sense to me that the profit motive is institutionally part of our healthcare system. No one should profit off of someone else’s need for medical treatment. That’s just wrong. And more importantly: it isn’t working!

It’s time to change what isn’t working for something that does work. Socialized medicine has been proven to work, and in so many other places around the world, too. Plus, it saved my vacation.

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Filed under healthcare, Norway, socialized medicine