Tacos, $10 billion and you

John Taylor: April 21, 20080 Comments

The taco chain store was jammed, the teen staff making supremes and nachos as fast at their sanitary-gloved hands could move. But help was needed. And several staffers offered their bare, gotta-rub-my-nose mitts to mash together sliced lettuce and shredded cheese.

Is the slogan "Run (singular?) for the border?"

Reminded me that some time before New Year's 2009, a California budget will be downsized and dished out. At this moment, the $16 billion-and-growing deficit plan includes hacking 10% -- to start with -- across the board from virtually every government-assisted program.

In 2007, California hospitals provided about $9.7 billion in uncompensated care -- you can get some care, but not tacos for free. And at this point, many service providers are calculating what an additional 10% loss will mean. Don't know about you, but I have a hard time getting my arms around such saturated numbers.

What's $10 billion mean? It would buy you roughly two USS Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. It's what the owner of Wild Turkey bourbon (Pernod Ricard) is paying to buy Absolut vodka. And Forbes magazine in 2008 reports that 16 of the world's 100 wealthiest people earn between $9 billion and $10 billion. (BTW, there are evidently 1,062 billionaires in the world.)

But at the taco distillery all I thought of was that budget cuts mean many of the people working here and in other low- to moderate-wage jobs won't get a shot an insurance. So, no preventive care. So, more expensive and multi-hour trips to emergency rooms. More uncompensated care, more closures (70 hospitals and ERs in the state in the last decade, says the California Hospital Association).

More waste, more suffering. And, after a long day of being sick at work, and a long night waiting -- treated/untreated -- at the ER, what's a feverish, bill-paying person to do? Suck it up and go back to assembling lunch.  Yeah, I can get my arms around that.