Socialism and dignity: U.S. capitalist health care is racist

In March, lack of personal protective equipment forced nurses at Mount Sinai West Hospital to use trash bags.

Deamonte Driver didn’t have to die. An abscessed tooth led to the 12-year-old Black youth’s death on Feb. 25, 2007. 

Deamonte’s mother, Alyce Driver, worked two jobs. But her pay was so low that she couldn’t afford $80 for her son to have a tooth extracted.

Few dentists in Prince George’s County, Md., accepted Medicaid. Alyce Driver was trying to find a dentist for another son who had six bad teeth.

After initially being sent home from an emergency room, Deamonte was rushed to the hospital. The infection in his tooth had spread to his brain.

Despite two operations Deamonte Driver didn’t survive. He really died of racism. 

His last breaths occurred a few miles from the National Institutes of Health and a whole series of prestigious hospitals in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area. Almost none of them, with the notable exception of Howard University Hospital, were designed to serve any poor people. 

Thirteen years after Deamonte Driver’s death, the coronavirus has killed over 130,000 people in the United States. No one has died of the virus in either the socialist Lao People’s Democratic Republic or the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Black people in the U.S. are dying of COVID-19 at a rate 2.7 times greater than that of whites. In Wisconsin’s Racine County, the rate is seven times higher.

Latinx people are over three times more likely to die as compared to whites. In Apache County, Ariz., the death rate of Indigenous people from the virus is nearly 17 times higher than that of local whites. 

The racist difference in death rates is even greater for people of working age. That’s because three out of seven deaths from COVID-19 have happened in nursing homes.

The seniors warehoused there are too often treated by management as roadkill. Workers at nursing homes, many of them poorly paid, have also died of the coronavirus.

Poor white people suffer from unequal medical care. So do all transgender people.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared that “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” 

Capitalism is inequality and the nearly $4-trillion U.S. medical-industrial complex is shockingly unjust and inhumane. 

Robbing life from millions

One hundred fifty years after the U.S. Civil War, white men in 2015 had a life expectancy at birth 4.4 years greater than Black men. White women lived an average 2.8 years longer than Black women.

Within New York City, there are outrageous differences in lifespans. Sixty-five percent of people in Battery Park City at Manhattan’s southern tip are white and most households have incomes of over $100,000 per year. They lived to be on average almost 86 years old.

A subway ride away in Brooklyn’s Brownsville community, 93 percent of the residents are Black or Latinx. Their life expectancy was just 74.4 years. That’s 11.5 years of life stolen from them by capitalism.   

Rates of infant and maternal mortality are even more unequal. In 2017, Black babies in Milwaukee were five times more likely to die than white babies. Black mothers in Wisconsin were five times as likely to die giving birth as white mothers. 

Over 22,000 people have died of the coronavirus in New York City. Whether people lived or died often depended on what hospitals they went to.

The fancy private hospitals in Manhattan are often connected to a medical school and have the best technical equipment. Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx ― one of 11 city-owned hospitals ― had trouble getting ventilators. 

“Safety net” hospitals like Lincoln almost exclusively serve the poor and are often understaffed. Meanwhile, the five big private hospital chains in the Big Apple can afford to spend $150 million a year in advertising.

Not only have patients died needlessly because of this inequality. So have health care workers. 

Kious Kelly, an assistant nursing manager at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai hospital, died of the virus on March 24. Workers there had to use garbage bags as personal protective equipment.

Mount Sinai Health System CEO Dr. Kenneth Davis doesn’t wear garbage bags. In 2017 he was paid over $12 million.

Cuba has what we need

For capitalists, health care is a commodity to be sold for a profit, like Twinkies or napalm. Nowhere else has medicine become more of a source of profit than in the U.S.

Why does health care account for 17 percent of the U.S. capitalist economy while capitalist Germany spends just a tad over 11 percent? It’s not because Germany lacks physicians: it has 65 percent more doctors per person than the U.S. Average life expectancy in Germany is nearly 2.8 years longer than in the U.S.

The difference in the two countries’ health care costs is the much greater profits in the United States. The four biggest U.S. pharmaceutical outfits ― Pfizer, Merck, Abbott and Eli Lilly ― have a total stock market value of $700 billion.

Eli Lilly raked in $8.3 billion in profits last year. Its best-selling product is Humalog insulin, a life-saving medicine for people with diabetes.

According to the American Medical Association, insulin prices tripled between 2002 and 2013.

Some people died because they couldn’t afford insulin. Among them was Jeremy Crawford, who died in Dallas on Aug. 25, 2019. 

Crawford’s death would have been impossible in Cuba. So would the death of Deamonte Driver.

Health care is considered a human right in the socialist country of Cuba, not something to make money from. Cubans live, on average, 16 years longer than they did in 1959, when the Cuban Revolution began.  

After the Soviet Union was overthrown in 1991, Cuba lost two-thirds of its trade. But not a single Cuban hospital or school was closed.

Hundreds of hospitals have closed in the U.S. Some of them have been turned into luxury housing, like St. John’s Hospital in Queens, N.Y.

The Borough of Queens, an epicenter of the coronavirus, has only 1.8 hospital beds per thousand people. Cuba has five per thousand.

Before its revolution, Cuba couldn’t even manufacture an aspirin tablet. Today, Cuban medical workers have developed medications like CIMAvax-EGF to combat lung cancer. 

Thousands of Cuban health care workers are helping people in other countries. Two thousand Cuban doctors and nurses went abroad to fight Covid-19.  

Despite a 60-year-long U.S. economic blockade, Cuban workers have dignity. Cuba has what we need: socialism and free health care for all.