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Katrina and Healthcare Reform

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina exposed an array of glaring deficiencies in America’s infrastructure – the slow response from FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security and the fragile state of the New Orleans levees are perhaps the most prominent. But, according to Jill Quadagno, the most imposing challenge brought to light by Katrina is the tattered state of our nation’s healthcare system. In the November/December issue of the Boston Review, Quadagno writes:

While Tulane University Hospital in New Orleans, a private facility, safely evacuated about 1,400 patients and employees, Charity Hospital, the public facility across the street, had no money to charter helicopters and no working evacuation plan. Charity’s patients, among the poorest in New Orleans, remained behind as flood waters rose and conditions worsened. Like 46 million other Americans, most of them had no health insurance.

Quadagno then looks at the political components necessary to reform a system that overlooks 46 million of its most vulnerable members. A true reform movement will require political leadership at the national level, coordinated efforts from mid-level organizations like labor unions and other advocacy groups, and, most importantly, grassroots support. Quadagno hopes that this third leg will be the silver lining in the aftermath of Katrina:

A grass-roots constituency for health-care reform already exists: the baby boomers, half of whom are now in their 50s, the Hispanic population, with nearly one-third uninsured, and the millions of low-income families made visible by Hurricane Katrina. That natural disaster may be the transforming political event that makes Americans more responsive to the plight of the disadvantaged and shifts national priorities from waging war to reforming health care.

Quadagno’s article is itself an introduction to three articles that propose varying solutions to the healthcare problem. John Geyman would convert to a single-payer plan that would guarantee universal coverage. Barbara Starsfield offers intermediate steps that may eventually lead to a coalition for more comprehensive reform. Finally, Ezekiel J. Emanuel and Victor R. Fuchs propose a voucher system that would allow individuals “to purchase a basic benefits package from a private insurance company.”

LINK to Quadagno’s article at the Boston Review.

Jill Quadagno is the author of One Nation, Uninsured and one of this blog’s most frequent contributors (start reading her posts here). Most of the time, however, she is the Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar is Social Gerontology and Professor of Sociology at Florida State University.

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