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New Orleans: the Health Care Story

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Leslie Eaton, in Tuesday's NYT, front-pages a long piece on the state of health care in New Orleans.

My first thought on reading it was that Michael Moore should have come to the Crescent City, because the post-disaster state of the health care system is a worst-case scenario of what's happening, in milder terms, nationwide. Eaton gets the numbers right, in terms of the medical and mental health personnel who have fled the city at the time of its greatest need, but fails to interview those who departed -- some 80 percent of the mental health professionals, according to a story published some time ago in the Times-Picayune. But Eaton brushes lightly past the heart of the story: the continued impasse between the state and the feds -- the two entities with any money to put behind their opinions -- on the fate of Charity Hospital.

Like the shuttered public housing units, the delay in reviving or replacing Charity is, at bottom, the playing out of an ideological struggle between old-style liberalism and the Bush administration's flavor of conservatism. Charity was born in the Huey Long era, when the point was to build a full-spectrum facility to care for the poor and educate the state's doctors. The feds instead want to pay poor people to buy insurance with which to patronize private doctors and hospitals. The economics are debatable, but what's clear is that the recovery of New Orleans is being sacrificed to this ideological struggle. A complicating factor is the desire of LSU, the university that ran Charity, for a showplace new medical center. (But similarly, the feds insist on shutting perfectly habitable public housing in the interest of building mixed-use, and mixed-income, units. While perhaps laudable in the abstract, the dogged pursuit of this policy means people who had leases on the old public housing units not only can't return home, they can't even retrieve their possessions) A look at the ideological struggle behind the health-care and affordable-housing crises would have been a useful addition to Eaton's reporting.

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