A Program for Combating Poverty — Stop the Cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Expand Medicare to All

A comprehensive program to combat poverty in America is long overdue.

January 17, 2013  |  

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With poverty rates spinning perilously out of control in the U.S., it’s time to send an unmistakable message to Congress and the White House as they prepare to resume the ongoing obsession with the deficit: End the silence on poverty, don’t make poverty worse by make cuts to Social Security or Medicare, and address a principle cause of poverty with a permanent fix to our dysfunctional healthcare system..

In a week in which a shocking new report on U.S. life expectancy rates was published, which has a disproportionate impact on the poor, and a high profile pre-inauguration forum on poverty is behind held Thursday night in Washington, this is a good time to draw the links between income, healthcare, and Social Security and Medicare, perhaps the two most effective anti-poverty programs ever enacted in the U.S.

Census Bureau data puts the official poverty rate at 15 percent, 46 million people, and at 22 percent for children under 18.  Some have speculated the real number is two to three times that amount.

Not that you would notice listening to the debates inside the Beltway where too many politicians are focused on spending cuts, not addressing the daily shortages of food, shelter, healthcare, and jobs faced by a large swath of our nation.

It’s one reason why nationally syndicated broadcaster Tavis Smiley is hosting a major forum, “Vision for a New America. A Future Without Poverty,” being broadcast on CSPAN Thursday night in Washington.

Nurses see the correlation of low incomes and deteriorating health status every day in hospitals and clinics across the U.S.

Consequences that are evident in a report last week by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine which found the U.S. ranked last in life expectancies among 17 affluent countries. All the others have some form of a national healthcare system. No gold medals for us in this international competition, except in how much we spend and waste on health care as a result of our profit-focused private system.

Sadly, the Affordable Care Act has not eradicated the problem, especially when it comes to rising healthcare costs.

that alone contribute to two-thirds of personal bankruptcies and a myriad of the health woes nurses witness regularly.

Nurses see the effects in premature and low weight babies and other widespread nutrition problems from hunger and malnutrition that can lead to disease and even organ failure. They see children with high levels of stress and anxiety, heart attacks in younger and younger men, rampant unaddressed mental health problems and emotional disorders, and scores of patients who routinely skip needed medical care because of the cost until they end up in emergency rooms with major untreated diseases that may then be too late to heal.

Patients like the widowed woman in a Midwest state whose diabetes led to foot and leg wounds that became severe because she could not afford constant treatment. Finally admitted to a hospital, she faced the Sophie’s Choice of amputation or lengthy, more expensive long term care. She chose amputation because it was cheaper. No that’s not a story out of the Middle Ages or a Civil War battlefield, it’s modern day America.

Permanent disability would not have been needed had she been able to wait a few more years. The NRC/Institute of Medicine study found the U.S. catching up to other countries only when people are later in life. Because of Medicare.

Upon signing the Medicare law in 1965, President Johnson cited the long history in the U.S. of “bill after bill (being) introduced to help older citizens meet the often crushing and always rising cost of disease and crippling illness.”