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Hunger in Venezuela Will Drive You to the Dumpsters, or It Will Drive You to Tears

By: Pedro García Otero - Mar 9, 2017, 10:20 am
Hunger in Venezuela
A woman threatened to jump off a sculpture and kill herself in Caracas because she couldn’t find enough food day to day. (La Patilla)

EspañolI am a normal, 50-year-old man, in relatively good physical condition, and without visible depression except for that which is caused by living hunger in Venezuela.

I scrubbed some dishes last Saturday, and as I did I felt pain for my country, for the people of the society in which I live, and how that experience has come to define what it means to be a Venezuelan right now.

My wife found me crying in the kitchen then. There was a pot at the bottom of the sink we had just used to make rice. Some of the rice that got stuck to the pot was removed with water and soap. It was a considerable portion, enough for one person, so I put it in a colander, and started to clean it with water, because in a while somebody will look in the trash, they will eat it, and I didn’t want them to eat it with soap.

It was at that moment that everything seemed so wrong. Yes, someone would eat it from the trash, but what disturbed me more was that I considered it so normal. And I burst into tears — not a few tears, but an overflow of them.

I have shared this experience with some friends, and I have received some surprising responses. A friend went to live in France a few months ago, and she is surprised at how well she eats in that country, but also pointed out that she can’t eat without feeling guilty because of the hunger many of her neighbors and relatives are suffering back home.

“I save even the last ounce of food, I don’t like to throw anything away,” she told me.

Several friends here have mentioned that they feel guilty when they eat a full meal. Another friend told me he no longer eats in public places, that if he buys food on the street he takes it to go, because he can’t bear to see the expression on people’s faces who watch him eat. And this writer can tell you that in downtown Caracas, the view, after 9 pm, is like a planet of zombies, dark streets full of people rummaging through trash bags.

Those people are not necessarily in pauper conditions. Last week I saw a couple, a man and a lady, about 70 years old, doing it as well. Believe me, it’s simply unbearable to watch. I also learned that in that area, which was formerly full of large Spanish food restaurants, have already begun to separate leftovers from the rest of the garbage to make it easier for people scavenging for food.

Free press in Venezuela is scarce, so reports about the deaths of newborns due to lack of food don’t appear as often as they should. This week, babies died in Maturin, Trujillo and Ocumare del Tuy. Deaths caused by bitter cassava (an inedible vegetable) have also increased. The Colombian television station NTN24 reported that children who arrive with malnutrition are isolated in J.M. De Los Rios Children’s Hospital to avoid any press about their condition. Of course, in a country where the the president’s waistline is growing week after week, the government does not want this type of information spreading.

Hunger in Venezuela has disrupted a society that already had issues. Violence was common, now it is overwhelming. Recently, a woman in Plaza Venezuela, one of Caracas’ most emblematic squares, climbed a monument and threatened to jump because she could not get enough food. It’s ruined whole families. It led to fights between siblings, between parents and children. “He killed his stepchildren because they ate a loaf of bread” was a headline that appeared in a regional newspaper this November.

The worst is yet to come. The Venezuelan government is running out of cash, and after March, a mild month in debt payments, April will force the country to default. The relative and very partial relief that the government was providing through CLAP food boxes will surely disappear. In fact, the country had to request a loan to pay for the most recent round of them.

Venezuela could fall into true hyperinflation, real hunger, cannibalism. Something perfectly avoidable, but which nows seems inevitable — avoidable with a change of policies, inevitable if the government insists on continuing with its socialist policies, and it seems that we are headed in that direction.

The clock is ticking.

Pedro García Otero Pedro García Otero

Pedro García is the Spanish managing editor of the PanAm Post. He is a Venezuelan journalist with over 25 years of experience in local newspapers, radio, television, and online media. Follow him @PedroGarciaO.

Why a Free Market in Health Care Is the Best Way to Handle Pre-Existing Conditions

By: Guest Contributor - Mar 8, 2017, 5:08 pm
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a town hall meeting on healthcare at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee August 20, 2009 in Washington.   UPI/Alex Wong/Pool

By David Henderson At a talk I attended when Obamacare was being debated, health economist John C. Goodman asked, "Would you want to be a patron of a restaurant that didn't want you as a customer?" He was getting at the fact that Obamacare would set up incentives for health insurers to avoid the sickest people because they would not be able to charge for pre-existing conditions. Under the individual insurance that existed before Obamacare, beneficiaries (my daughter was one) could buy guaranteed-renewable health insurance. If they developed a condition while insured, they could still buy health insurance at a premium that applied to the whole pool they were in when they originally bought insurance. If they developed a serious condition, why would insurers take them? Because, by contract, they had to. Why would they treat them well? Because they had an incentive to treat everyone in the pool well and could be caught for discriminating against people in the pool. Read More: Maduro Claims Peruvian President Advocates for US Military Intervention in Venezuela Read More: EU Officials Speak Out Against Crisis in Venezuela, Urge Maduro to Respect Constitution Obamacare looked good because insurers could no longer charge for pre-existing conditions. What to do? According to a study by Michael Geruso of the University of Texas, Timothy J. Layton of Harvard Medical School, and Daniel Prinz of Harvard University, health insurers under Obamacare have figured out how to game the system: how, in Goodman's terms, to be the restaurant that turns away customers they don't want. Here's a segment of their abstract: We first show that despite large regulatory transfers that neutralize selection incentives for most consumer types, some consumers are unprofitable in a way that is predictable by their prescription drug demand. Then, using a difference-in-differences strategy that compares Exchange formularies where these selection incentives exist to employer plan formularies where they do not, we show that Exchange insurers design formularies as screening devices that are differentially unattractive to unprofitable consumer types. This results in inefficiently low levels of coverage for the corresponding drugs in equilibrium. The study is "Screening in Contract Design: Evidence from the ACA Health Insurance Exchanges," NBER Working Paper #22832, November 2016. Cato Institute health economist Michael Cannon lays out some of the implications in a recent op/ed titled "How ObamaCare Punishes the Sick," Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2017 (March 1 for print edition.) A long excerpt: Predictably, that triggers a race to the bottom. Each year, whichever insurer offers the best MS coverage attracts the most MS patients and racks up the most losses. Insurers that offer high-quality coverage either leave the market, as many have, or slash their coverage. Let's call those losses what they are: penalties for offering high-quality coverage. The result is lower-quality coverage--for MS, rheumatoid arthritis, infertility and other expensive conditions. The researchers find these patients face higher cost-sharing (even for inexpensive drugs), more prior-authorization requirements, more mandatory substitutions, and often no coverage for the drugs they need, so that consumers "cannot be adequately insured." The study also corroborates reports that these rules are subjecting patients to higher deductibles and cost-sharing across the board, narrow networks that exclude leading cancer centers, inaccurate provider directories, and opaque cost-sharing. A coalition of 150 patient groups complains this government-fostered race to the bottom "completely undermines the goal of the ACA." It doesn't have to be like this. Employer plans offer drug coverage more comprehensive and sustainable than ObamaCare. The pre-2014 individual market made comprehensive coverage even more secure: High-cost patients were less likely to lose coverage than similar enrollees in employer plans. The individual market created innovative products like "pre-existing conditions insurance" that--for one-fifth the cost of health insurance--gave the uninsured the right to enroll in coverage at healthy-person premiums if they developed expensive conditions. There are lots of links in the above, so, if you want to know more about what's behind his reasoning, do a Google on the title of his article. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1459522593195-0'); }); He also warns policy makers who are hesitant about repealing the pre-existing condition rules: If anything, Republicans should fear not repealing ObamaCare's pre-existing-conditions rules. The Congressional Budget Office predicts a partial repeal would wipe out the individual market and cause nine million to lose coverage unnecessarily. And contrary to conventional wisdom, the consequences of those rules are wildly unpopular. In a new Cato Institute/YouGov poll, 63% of respondents initially supported ObamaCare's pre-existing-condition rules. That dropped to 31%--with 60% opposition--when they were told of the impact on quality. David Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and an economics professor at the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. He is editor of The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Liberty Fund) and blogs at econlib.org. This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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