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Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and other elected officials have been deploring the strike and lockout at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital. But unfortunate as the labor dispute is, it is in part the result of federal and state government policy.
The Affordable Care Act, "Obamacare," aims to economize with hospitals by reducing payments for patients insured by the federal government and linking payments to favorable treatment outcomes. And the Malloy administration has greatly reduced state reimbursements to hospitals for treating state-insured patients.
Of course hospitals can economize. But their stakeholders - management, employees, and patients - may have different ideas about it. Management may want to contract out services now performed by union employees. The union may think hospital executives are overpaid and want to increase union membership to prevent other economies. Patients may find certain procedures redundant.
Determining the right economies or at least the expedient ones is what the strike at Lawrence & Memorial is about, and elected officials are disingenuous to shake their fingers at the dispute as if it's all someone else's responsibility. Strikes are part of how issues are settled in a market economy. When government tries to save money in a part of the economy where it is the biggest purchaser of services, it risks provoking strikes and shares responsibility for them.
Similar hypocrisy is on display from the same elected officials as they hurl their indignation at the Metro-North commuter railroad over its latest disaster, the derailment in the Bronx in which four people were killed. Whatever the accident's cause, the railroad long has acknowledged having to neglect maintenance, modernization, and safety improvements requiring billions of dollars.
Sen. Blumenthal prefers to spend big money on the war in Afghanistan. Gov. Malloy prefers to spend it on corporate welfare and raises for government employees. Will Metro-North's latest disaster prompt them to change their priorities? Or will they prefer to keep pretending that they have no more responsibility for the railroad than they have for hospitals?
Pass on prison business
Connecticut's Correction Department says it could make money by accepting more prisoners from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The department figures that it could take 150 more federal prisoners, reopen the former Gates Correctional Institution in East Lyme, and still profit because the federal government would increase its daily payment per prisoner from the current $88 to $109 and because rearranging the state's own prison population could reduce overtime for guards.
A humane concern is behind the idea. The federal prisoners who would be moved to Connecticut have yet to be sentenced in cases involving courts in this state but are being held at a privately operated prison in Rhode Island, far from their families and lawyers.
But there are better reasons not to enter the arrangement with the federal government.
The arrangement couldn't be considered permanent even as it would be difficult to reverse the facility and personnel changes the arrangement would require. Whatever money the state made from the arrangement well might be lost if the extra prison had to be closed again and its staff reassigned.
The arrangement would ensure more employment in the Correction Department and thus incur more unfunded liabilities that probably won't be counted when calculating the arrangement's costs. More employment in state government means more influence for the state employee unions, already dominant in state politics.
Most important, the arrangement will increase Connecticut's place in the prison-industrial complex. The United States already imprisons a larger share of its population than any other country, and most imprisonments involve drug criminalization, a catastrophically failed policy. Making more room in prison will help perpetuate that policy and reduce the pressure to change it.