Waiting Lists? Hospital Closures? Too Few Doctors? …Canada? No: Los Angeles

An appalling job of reporting in today’s New York Times, about the consequences to Los Angeles’ poorest residents of closing the county-run Martin Luther King, Jr.-Harbor Hospital almost a year ago.

As I’ve written before, the county had plenty of opportunity over the last few months to let private operators make a go of re-opening MLK-Harbor, but the power of the union bosses scared them off.

So, the NY Times has written about the continuing plight of long suffering, mostly poor, Angelenos who live in that shuttered hospital’s neighborhood. And it misses one big point and gets another one completely wrong.

First, look at this introductory quotation about the increased patient load at a community clinic, that resulted from MLK-Harbor’s closing:

There are 22-year-olds, holding neat piles of pills on their laps, small children whose mothers try to distract them with plastic rattles, elderly immigrants who sit silently, staring at nothing in particular, until their names are called.

What would you say all these patients have in common? Well, I’d say it’s that they do not belong in a hospital ER, but that a community clinic is the right place for them. Not that I want to trivialize the loss of a hospital (which, as I noted above, could have re-opened by now if not for the county’s actions) for those who need hospital services, but I’d bet the folks in the article will get better care at the community clinic. I would hope so. After all, isn’t this the “preventive care” that’s supposed to save U.S. health care?

Worse is the reporter’s uncritical parroting of poverty by Medi-Cal providers, those who profit from the program:

“We have an all-out crisis here,” said Carol Meyer, the director of governmental relations for the Los Angeles County Health Services Department. “In terms of lack of access to care, emergency room overcrowding and total underfunding of the health care system.”……

…..“Over the course of the last 10 to 15 years, there are entire populations that have been wiped off Medicaid,” said Larry S. Gage, president of the National Association of Public Hospitals.

Anyone slightly acquainted with Medicaid’s breathless growth knows that these statements are nonsense. Sure, Gov. Schwarzenegger is dialing back Medi-Cal reimbursements this year, but that’s because the state is in a deficit caused by reckless spending. Medi-Cal spending grew an average of 7 percent annually from 1997 through 2007 – almost doubling. One third of that growth came from increasing enrolment. (See page 52 of this report.)

No wonder the American people are deluded about the true costs of government-run health care to human welfare. The media need a heavy dose of fact-checking.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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