Austerity Forever

Health care took the most visible hits at the Legislature this year, and the future only looks bleaker: Linda Berglin, the only DFLer who stood and fought Pawlenty's cuts.

CP: Why is it suddenly okay to do all of these things?

Berglin: I don't know. I think Pawlenty is hoping that the damage done won't be that visible. It is not like closing the governor's mansion--that is pretty visible. When things happen to people we don't always hear about it. When the children who have their after-school programs cut become pregnant or start stealing cars, people don't see a direct relationship, although studies show there is a connection. And how many people are going to know when six-year-old kids are left home alone because their moms can't afford the rent and the child care and have to go to work?

A lot of people like to think, "I am doing just fine in life, I'm self-sufficient, I made it." But what people don't realize is that whether you are getting your health care through a government program or not, it is subsidized. All of your health care benefits are tax-free benefits, so they are being subsidized by the tax system. The guy in back of the restaurant doing the dishes is working just as hard as you or me. He is just not as fortunate to have employment that brings affordable health care with it. And we rely on people all over the place to do the work and perform the jobs in our economy and we know that many of them don't have health care coverage. But we still have a system of health care that is interconnected, where everybody is dependent on everybody else. And if half of the people don't have health care insurance and are getting their health care without any payment system, I am going to be paying more and you are going to be paying more. It is going to show up on your taxes some way, or on your health care premium some way. You can't escape it.

For example, this session it was popular to talk about depriving immigrants of health care. But diseases don't know any national boundaries or national origins. And so people who are not going to be receiving health care are going to be at risk of transmitting tuberculosis, venereal disease, maybe smallpox, maybe SARS, and all the rest of us are going to have a problem too. It is not like you can just segment society and make judgments that some people are worthy of health care and some are not. You might be able to make a judgment that some people can afford to take care of themselves and some are not. But at 75 percent of poverty, which is what the Republicans are doing with single adults, losing their outpatient eligibility, that is not a reasonable judgment.

What will happen politically? I don't know. Time will tell. But I can tell you this much. The people, the individual people who are affected by the health care cuts, are important. But as important is the fact that most Minnesotans these days worry about their health care. They worry about whether it is going to be there for them, if they lose their job what is going to happen. That general worrying, I think, translates into the broad population. I'm not losing my health care and neither is the governor, his commissioners, or any legislators. But my neighbor or my brother or somebody that I know will lose it, and it makes me keenly aware that this terrible thing is creeping closer to my door. I think that is the reason a lot of the polls show a lot of support for providing health care to people. The secret is not letting people forget, being ready to correct things when we can, and making the cuts be temporary. That's what I'm fighting for.

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