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A sign of the times; War, health and the US legal system. March 26, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

John O’Neill of the Irish Socialist Network forwarded me this news story (available on the Marxmail site) which encapsulates the major themes that face the United States today.

As John says:

I believe it embodies all that’s wrong in the US; Greedy multinationals, the lack of Health Care, The legal system and so on. It also has another dimension, highlighting the American working class sacrifice for the “war on terror”. I wonder how the ‘moral majority’ feel about a man who has to divorce for his wife to get healthcare. Not to mention the pillars of society, the legal profession who took $583,000 in fees out of a $1 million settlement. It is tragic beyond belief.

It certainly is an imperfect storm that has led to unconscionable outcomes…

JACKSON, Missouri (CNN) — Debbie Shank breaks down in tears every time she’s told that her 18-year-old son, Jeremy, was killed in Iraq. Debbie Shank, 52, has severe brain damage after a traffic accident in May 2000. Even though the 52-year-old mother of three attended her son’s funeral — she continues to ask how he’s doing. When her family reminds her that he’s dead — she weeps as if hearing the news for the first time.

Shank suffered severe brain damage after a traffic accident nearly eight years ago that robbed her of much of her short-term memory and left her in a wheelchair and living in a nursing home. It was the beginning of a series of battles — both personal and legal — that loomed for Shank and her family. One of their biggest was with Wal-Mart’s health plan.

Eight years ago, Shank was stocking shelves for the retail giant and signed up for Wal-Mart’s health and benefits plan.

Two years after the accident, Shank and her husband, Jim, were awarded about $1 million in a lawsuit against the trucking company involved in the crash. After legal fees were paid, $417,000 was placed in a trust to pay for Debbie Shank’s long-term care.

Wal-Mart had paid out about $470,000 for Shank’s medical expenses and later sued for the same amount. However, the court ruled it can only recoup what is left in the family’s trust.

The Shanks didn’t notice in the fine print of Wal-Mart’s health plan policy that the company has the right to recoup medical expenses if an employee collects damages in a lawsuit.

The family’s attorney, Maurice Graham, said he informed Wal-Mart about the settlement and believed the Shanks would be allowed to keep the money.
“We assumed after three years, they [Wal-Mart] had made a decision to let Debbie Shank use this money for what it was intended to,” Graham said.

The Shanks lost their suit to Wal-Mart. Last summer, the couple appealed the ruling — but also lost it. One week later, their son was killed in Iraq.

“They are quite within their rights. But I just wonder if they need it that bad,” Jim Shank said.

In 2007, the retail giant reported net sales in the third quarter of $90 billion.

Legal or not, CNN asked Wal-Mart why the company pursued the money.

Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley, who called Debbie Shank’s case “unbelievably sad,” replied in a statement: “Wal-Mart’s plan is bound by very specific rules. … We wish it could be more flexible in Mrs. Shank’s case since her circumstances are clearly extraordinary, but this is done out of fairness to all associates who contribute to, and benefit from, the plan.”

Jim Shank said he believes Wal-Mart should make an exception. “My idea of a win-win is — you keep the paperwork that says you won and let us keep the money so I can take care of my wife,” he said.

The family’s situation is so dire that last year Jim Shank divorced Debbie, so she could receive more money from Medicaid.

Jim Shank, 54, is recovering from prostate cancer, works two jobs and struggles to pay the bills. He’s afraid he won’t be able to send their youngest son to college and pay for his and Debbie’s care. “Who needs the money more? A disabled lady in a wheelchair with no future, whatsoever, or does Wal-Mart need $90 billion, plus $200,000?” he asked.

The family’s attorney agrees. “The recovery that Debbie Shank made was recovery for future lost earnings, for her pain and suffering,” Graham said. “She’ll never be able to work again. Never have a relationship with her husband or children again. The damage she recovered was for much more than just medical expenses.”

Graham said he believes Wal-Mart should be entitled to only about $100,000. Right now, about $277,000 remains in the trust — far short of the $470,000 Wal-Mart wants back.

Refusing to give up the fight, the Shanks appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But just last week, the high court said it would not hear the case. Graham said the Shanks have exhausted all their resources and there’s nothing more they can do but go on with their lives.

Jim Shank said he’s disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case — not for the sake of his family — but for those who might face similar circumstances. For now, he said the family will figure out a way to get by and “do the best we can for Debbie.”

“Luckily, she’s oblivious to everything,” he said. “We don’t tell her”

What is most difficult to understand is the way that Wal-Mart feels that it is correct to claw back money in the event that those in their scheme get other monies additional to that paid out by Wal-Mart. How this impacts on the “fairness to all associates who contribute to, and benefit from, the plan” remains unexplained.


1. John Self - March 26, 2008

Having just last night watched Michael Moore’s Sicko, this seems both all too believable and another twist of the knife from the US health”care” industry. Not that we needed another reason to doubt Wal-Mart’s credentials of human decency.


2. yourcousin - March 26, 2008

I remember reading this story awhile ago and thinking the same thing (ie this is what’s wrong with my country). Just remember, that although Hillary’s healthcare would techinically give more people coverage I doubt very much that she (or Obama) would do anything substanative that alter situations like this.


3. WorldbyStorm - March 27, 2008

I completely agree yourcousin. Both are, as Mick Hall has eloquently noted, in the pocket of vested interests who have very different agendas. That’s not to say there would be no change, and it might well be for the better, but the root and branch change necessary? Ain’t going to happen.


4. yourcousin - March 27, 2008

I agree that Mick Hall has covered this ground with his point was that Obama and company were in the pockets of Wall Street. This too I would agree with as I’ve pointed out before, but it goes deeper than that, or perhaps shallower depending on how you look at it. I don’t think that the entire campaign trail is a shill with the strings pulled masterfully from Wall Street. Strings (however discordent) are being pulled all over the country and in more households than ever before (there’s already an 80% expected turnout for the general election). And while I believe that to a degree that the fundamental changes needed by our society will not be made on voting day there’s enough at stake to merit a closer look. The fact that elections are little more than ceremonial changing of the guards is basically well known and the likes of Enronesque scandals still permeats (spelling?) through our society. Locally (for me) check out the Joe Nachio trial with Qwest and his new re-trial coming up. I suppose what I’m trying to get at is how long can we condemn the circus while still packing the under the big top? At some point we must admit to ourselves (at the very least) that the vested interested our not entirely malignant (at least in intention) and held solely by Wall Street to simply oppress the working class. This system requires (and receives) the active apathy and as we are seeing at times the active support of the majority of people in this country. Obama mania and the Ron Paul phenomenon are just a few examples of this. The vested interests simply don’t stop at the end of Wall Street.


5. WorldbyStorm - March 27, 2008

Which is problematic if only because it doesn’t indicate a particularly good way forward in all this. I don’t think Obama per se is in the pocket, any more than you or I, but more that circumstances conspire to produce a de facto effect that makes it difficult to differentiate between his being in that pocket or not. The outcomes, as it were, become identical. And that’s surely supporting your point as to larger problems where everyone is involved.


6. Graham - March 27, 2008

The Ron Paul campaign is an example of people supporting “the system”?

Is this the same Ron Paul who would abolish the IRS and the Federal Reserve? The same Ron Paul who has argued against corporate subsidies, international management of trade, “privileged government contracts to the military-industrial complex”, and “a foreign policy controlled by corporate interests and overseas investments” (his words)?

I don’t think this man is supporting the same system that you think he is supporting 😉


7. CL - March 27, 2008

One can find a hundred thousand horror stories like the one above. What is needed is a class analysis that views health not in isolation, but as an integral part of the political and social environment. This documentary about to be broadcast on U.S. public TV is a promising beginning:


8. WorldbyStorm - March 27, 2008

Very true, but anecdotes are effective means of conveying larger political messages.

Graham, re Ron Paul. Weeeeeellllll… perhaps…


9. CL - March 27, 2008

“There is an Axis of Evil,” David Williams says, “an Axis of Evil of inequality, of racism, of poverty, of economic deprivation that is adversely affecting the health of the American people.”
Williams is one of the creators of the ‘Unnatural Causes’ series.

The ‘health’ industry in the U.S is one of the fastest growing sectors, it has created great wealth for many enterprising capitalists, and HMO/insurance company diktats ensure many efficient hospitals and many dead patients. So when people on the left cheer for wealth, growth, enterprise and efficiency they might keep the U.S. ‘health’ industry in mind.


10. WorldbyStorm - March 27, 2008

There is a clear distinction between the use of these terms… I really think you should look at how they’ve been used long before neo-liberalism. If one cheers for societal wealth and enterprise under democratic and socialist control one is self-evidently not arguing for the same thing as HMO’s and it’s incorrect to argue otherwise. I’d be terrified of a socialist system that wasn’t efficient in various areas, that didn’t encourage enterprise, that didn’t increase societal wealth, that didn’t look for growth to meet demand from citizens (not you’ll note consumers).


11. CL - March 27, 2008

Neo-liberalism is merely the revival of notions, nostrums, concepts and ideas which have a history going back over 200 years. Corish was not taking about a socialist Ireland, but really existing capitalist Ireland. The growth, efficiency, enterprise and ‘wealth’ created by the health care systems of Ireland and the U.S are damaging to the well-being of millions. To uncritically applaud such notions is regressive. The documentary (link above) shows why.


12. yourcousin - March 27, 2008

No, Obama is definitely in somebody’s pocket much more than you or I. Unless of course you are secretly a successful lawyer/politician (let me assure you that I am not). My point about Ron Paul is that he was always a no hoper, and simply used the race as a form of self promotion. I’m not questioning his sincerity, only his determination to actually affect those changes of which he preaches. Even if he had won he still wouldn’t be able to do those things on his own. So even though he had no hope of winning the presidency and even though his programs had no chance of being implemented by either house had he gotten in he gave credibility to the notion that the shill of election time (ie running for the top office in the land) was the way to elicit fundamental social change in our society when as stories highlighted in this post show much, much more needs to be done to even begin to prime the pump to tackle these issues.

As for where we go from here? Well normally when I get too far down his road I go to the liquor store, but that’s just me. On a more serious level, I just don’t know. It seems that “progress” on social issues and especially in regards to things like healthcare has revolved around giving power to either large private corporations or the government. The two forces which are bound to screw it up and which I will never trust. Hypothetically I would adovcate a return to grass roots oriented society pre-mlitary industrial complex kind of thing. But in order for me actually espouse this I would have to do things like talk to my neighbors about the issues facing working people today discuss how we could do something about it. And if I freely associated and socialized with other people then I wouldn’t very well call my blog “Misanthropy Abroad”, so we’re kind of at a dead end on that one.


13. WorldbyStorm - March 27, 2008

I wasn’t a lawyer/politician last time I looked…

That’s very honest of you in your last sentence… I think 🙂


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