Thursday, March 5, 2009

Health-care woes hit lower middle class hardest

Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ) - Friday, December 28, 2007
Author: RICHARD KELLEHER , The Republic

It's winter and the political season. That means promises of health care abound. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 42 million, or roughly 15 percent, of U.S. citizens without health insurance.

In Arizona, the percentage approaches 20 percent. That means roughly 1 million Arizonans have no health insurance.

During my MBA studies, the very first thing my marketing professor said was: "To understand marketing, you must know sociology. We will be studying a lot of Max Weber."

I got off on a wrong foot in this class. I had worked a full weekend, and it was Monday evening. Without realizing it, out of my mouth shot the words, "It's Veber." The vice president of marketing for one of the nation's top five companies at the time, who was teaching this class, wanted to know how he was being challenged by a student. As a journalism student, I had taken many sociology courses to understand the mankind I was reporting.

I explained Weber had been German and pronounced his name "Veber." Those comments endeared me to this man, now living in Sedona, and he became a lifelong mentor.

So, to understand the ramifications of these 42 million uninsured, you must look at it from a sociological perspective. It is the lower middle class that suffers the most from the lack of health care, more than the poor or middle and upper classes.

Recently, a man I know -- over 40, with a menial janitorial job even though he holds an MBA -- was limping. I asked when he had developed the limp. He explained that he had broken his leg and could not afford to go to a doctor. He had put a splint on it and let it heal itself.

It appears as employers jettison older male workers, these workers are falling into new territory from their parents' generation. Health care seems to be affordable for the comfortable upper middle class and there is the state-funded AHCCCS program for the poor. So the lower middle-class males are finding they cannot afford to pay for health care. They just go without it.

I learned about this phenomenon in college.

* I lived in a home where rooms where rented. For about a week, the guy across the hall was hack coughing 24 hours a day.

After about five days, police were there taking his body away. He had no health care.

In situations like this, the family usually finds out about six weeks later. I've never learned where authorities bury the bodies of lower middle-class people who don't leave enough behind to pay for a funeral or burial plot.

* A former roommate was in a horrific accident. Police told him they were calling an ambulance. He explained he could not afford any health care. He died at the scene.

* There was a man in his late 50s who died of a strangulated hernia. Again, newly lower middle class due to his employment situation of finding nothing but telemarketing jobs -- five in one year.

Like my janitor friend, he also held an MBA.

When politicians promise health care, realize they are talking Band-Aids on severed limbs. Instead of finding the societal cures to why people can't afford health care through an employer-sponsored program, or meaningful employment, politicians mean developing programs to provide jobs for those who helped get them in office. Those in the lower middle class call it more taxation.