Saturday, February 10, 2007

Health Care Glutton: the New "Welfare Queen"

Judith Warner of the New York Times writes that the Department of Labor is asking for information on how workers are abusing the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

In response to pressure from business groups, the Department of Labor has put out an official request for information on the Family and Medical Leave Act to find out if, as critics contend, the law is too generous and places an undue burden on employers who are required to comply with it.

Many of you may already be rolling your eyes. The United States, after all, ranks as one of the world’s most backward nations when it comes to family and medical leave benefits. A recent study from the McGill University Institute for Health and Social Policy in Montreal found that of 173 countries surveyed, 168 guaranteed women paid maternity leave. The United States – along with Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland – was not one of them. Eighty-six million working Americans have no paid sick days to use to care for ill children, and nearly one in two workers – 59 million in all – has no paid sick leave at all.

(sarcasm) Yeah, those are the countries that I want the U.S. to be compared to: poor third world countries that can't -- or won't -- provide basic health care for one of the most fundamental attributes of being a woman: motherhood. (/sarcasm) And then they have the audacity to claim that the FMLA is too generous.

(rant) A personal anecdote: when my father was dying of cancer, I had moved my law office into the house so that I could be with him full-time. I had to reduce my law practice to take care of him. Fortunately, my secretary was a home health aide and was able to work half the day assisting him. The only time I was able to take off for "me" time was when my sister or brother was able to take unpaid time off from their jobs under the FMLA. I wish the conservatives would spare us the canard that any benefits that accrue to workers will only be abused. (/rant)

Ms. Warner goes on to write:

What’s interesting to me here is that it clearly isn’t politically acceptable anymore to attack family and medical leave by bashing working mothers. Our current villain du jour is the health care glutton, who consumes doctor’s visits like so many donuts, sloughing off the burdens of his waste onto the hard-working and the health-care abstemious.

The health care glutton is the new millennium’s version of Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen, whose appetite for spawning children and sucking down public funds knew no limit, and whose specter ultimately led our country to accept a situation in which low-income mothers were forced back to work without child care or medical benefits for their families.

If the past is any guide, the appearance of the health care glutton may portend similarly bad news for those lucky American workers who are entitled to sick days and family leave, or who enjoy adequate health insurance benefits. If we let it happen.

Oh, and the name of the group that is pushing to reduce or even eliminate the FMLA? The National Coalition to Protect Family Leave. Conservative groups have become masters of creating Orwellian names for their organizations. This one is no different.

Hat Tip to Credit Slips for this find.

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