The Hightower Report

One Serious Illness Away; and The Union-Made Miracle

One Serious Illness Away

America's corporatized health-care system keeps producing unpleasant surprises.

We've known for some time that this system, which puts profit above care, is morally bankrupt – but now we learn that it is literally bankrupting hundreds of thousands of American families. In fact, the system's exorbitant medical bills have become the No. 1 cause of personal bankruptcies in the USA.

Researchers from Harvard and Ohio State recently conducted a national, random-sample survey of more than 2,300 families who filed for bankruptcy in 2007. As reported in the American Journal of Medicine, 60% of those families were forced into bankruptcy by high health-care bills. The situation is likely much worse today, since this survey was taken before the current spike in job losses.

Here's an even more sobering finding: The great majority of those bankrupted were not uninsured poor folks but middle-class, well-educated people, 75% of whom had health insurance! As one of the researchers, Dr. David Himmelstein, put it: "Unless you're Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy."

What a disgrace for the richest country in the history of the world. Indeed, America's deplorable connection between physical illness and fiscal disaster does not occur in other highly developed countries, because they provide national health insurance for all of their citizens. Yet, too many of our Congress critters in Washington don't really want to change our current system of health-care profiteering. Instead, they merely want to tinker with reform by extending our corporatized system to more people that will neither improve health care nor prevent more of those financial catastrophes. We need a complete overhaul of the system by adopting a single-payer method of insurance coverage for everyone.

To help push change that works, contact Physicians for a National Health Program:

The Union-Made Miracle

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued its official review of the "miracle on the Hudson" – the US Airways flight from New York City that struck a flock of geese, lost all power, and was forced to land in the Hudson River last January.

The board's analysis confirms what we learned from news reports at the time – Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and the rest of the crew on flight 1549 performed marvelously in the face of looming disaster, saving the lives of 150 horrified passengers by landing the jet intact and quickly evacuating it. Their performance has been hailed with such phrases as "stoic," "nearly flawless," and "heroic."

But another laudatory term should be applied to them as well: "union." Practically everyone involved in averting this disaster was a union-trained professional. Capt. Sully himself is not only a member of the US Airline Pilots Association but also served on its national governing committee and is USAPA's former safety chairman. Indeed, he and his union have had to fight airline chieftains who have tried to cut back on the safety-training programs that allowed him to save those lives.

Likewise, the cool-headed flight attendants who so expeditiously moved those nearly panicked people off the plane are members of their union, the Association of Flight Attendants, which also stresses safety. The ferry crews that zipped into action, skillfully and quickly maneuvering their boats right up to the wings to rescue passengers – they're in the Seafarers International Union, which gives them the safety courses that enabled them to respond as they did. The cops, firefighters, and air traffic controllers also performed marvelously – all union-trained.

At a time when corporate interests in all sectors of our economy are trying to eliminate unions, remember flight 1549 – the union-made miracle on the Hudson.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.
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