The New York Times has a story today about problems in an oil boomtown, Watford City, North Dakota. Can you spot what's wrong with this picture? I'll give you a hint:
The patients come with burns from hot water, with hands and fingers crushed by steel tongs, with injuries from chains that have whipsawed them off their feet. Ambulances carry mangled, bloodied bodies from accidents on roads packed with trucks and heavy-footed drivers.Seriously? The oil business is making money hand over fist in North Dakota, the state has America's lowest unemployment rate? -- 3.2% -- and the companies employing these guys to do dangerous jobs generating big profits can't even give them health insurance?
The furious pace of oil exploration that has made North Dakota one of the healthiest economies in the country has had the opposite effect on the region's health care providers. Swamped by uninsured laborers flocking to dangerous jobs, medical facilities in the area are sinking under skyrocketing debt, a flood of gruesome injuries and bloated business costs from the inflated economy.
Or maybe I'm just an East Coast lib who doesn't understand a culture where men are men and benefits are nonexistent.
In any case, this is putting a strain on the system:
The problems have been acute at McKenzie County Hospital here. Largely because of unpaid bills, the hospital's debt has climbed more than 2,000 percent over the past four years to $1.2 million, according to Daniel Kelly, the hospital's chief executive....Yeah, those'd be good ideas.
The 12 medical facilities in western North Dakota saw their combined debt rise by 46 percent over the course of the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years, according to Darrold Bertsch, the president of the state's Rural Health Association....
Mr. Kelly has pushed for the state, which has a surplus of more than $1 billion, to allocate money intended for the oil region specifically to health care facilities in the area. He has also asked for the state to grant low-interest loans so hospitals can borrow money for facility improvements and for the governor to convene a task force to study health care issues in the oil patch.
Here's another proposal:
Hospital executives are hoping to get the local government to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase so they can build a $55 million medical facility that would triple the size of the clinic, expand the emergency room, maintain the 24-bed hospital and increase space for other outpatient services like physical therapy.Right. Of course. Gotta be a sales tax, right? The most regressive of all taxes, because the greater the percentage of your income that you have to spend just to get by, the higher your effective tax rate is?
Still, it would be something. But, hey, no rush -- after all, why should a society take care of the people who are generating all of its wealth through dangerous, backbreaking labor? This is America, dammit!