Bill Boyarsky
 
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August 11, 2007

National health insurance and a failed hospital

The imminent closing of Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, one of the worst health disasters in Los Angeles County history, is a painful illustration of why we need national health insurance, Medicare for everybody.

It also shows why we need to get rid of a dysfunctional county board of supervisors. One supervisor in charge of a district, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, should not have been able to control the fate of the hospital for years while her colleagues did little more than occasionally wring their hands.

And “Killer King” is a tragic example of the futility of race-based politics, of a small group of African American old timers using the beleaguered hospital to maintain jobs and neighborhood political power.

After years of covering the supervisors, I know nothing will change our county government. The supervisors are all but unbeatable because their districts are huge and they control campaign contributions. And nothing will stop the clash of poor African Americans and Latinos as they scrap for limited resources.

But national health insurance will help. Hopefully, the next president will make it happen.

King’s closing was all but assured when federal authorities decided to revoke $200 million in annual payments because of poor care at the hospital. The disaster will spread through the county. Emergency wards will become more crowded. More people will go without medical care

With Medicare paying every person’s hospital bill, King-Harbor could re-open as a private or a community hospital, not part of the huge county bureaucracy. An independent administration would impose rigorous standards on doctors, nurses, pharmacists and the rest of the huge crew needed to run a hospital. And with national health insurance, patients could choose a hospital and a doctor. It would give poor cancer victims a chance for treatment at a hospital with the most experienced cancer specialists.

With Medicare for everybody, fewer people would need hospitalization.

Hang out in the emergency ward of a county hospital and you will see what I mean. Among the poor souls trapped in 10 hour waits are those with high fevers, diabetes related ailments and many other afflictions that could have been treated or prevented much earlier in the game by visits to a doctor or by health education.

National health insurance means yearly physicals, breast, colon and prostate examination and testing. It means proper care for children. A sudden rise in temperature sends Westside parents and their children scurrying to the doctor. That’s good and it should be standard operating procedure in all of L.A.

And for those choosing King, it would mean a decent hospital. King should be as good as Huntington, Cedars, St. John’s or UCLA. Not that those institutions are perfect, but nobody inserts the word “killer” in front of their names.

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