by Paul Buchheit, published July 20, 2015 at Common Dreams
The FBI defines terrorism as “Acts dangerous to human life…intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.” Much of the behavior of our current health care system meets that definition. The facts show intention on the part of corporations to intimidate the population by using market strategies to charge whatever they like for their medical products and services, and an effort to coerce the public into accepting the current system as the only option.
The Average American Family Pays $4,000 for Medical Fraud and Subsidies
Medical billing fraud is estimated at 10 percent of all health care, or about $270 billion, while patent monopolies raise the price of prescription drugs by another $270 billion a year. Combined, this represents an astonishing annual cost of over $4,000 to an average American household. As The Atlantic puts it, “The people most likely to bilk the system are doctors and medical providers, not ‘welfare queens.'”
Intimidation by Outrageous Markups
In a recent analysis of 50 hospitals (49 for-profit) with the highest charge-to-cost ratios in 2012, the average markup was 1,000 percent, which means that a procedure costing a hospital $100 is marked up to $1,000 for us.
Some of the markups test the limits of sanity: an 80-cent needle for $143.25 (a 17,000 percent markup). A 25-cent IUD device for $1,000. A blood test that costs $10 in one hospital and $10,000 in another.
A Johns Hopkins professor explained, “They are marking up the prices because no one is telling them they can’t.”
Cheating and Coercion
Pharmaceutical companies have successfully lobbied Congress to keep Medicare from bargaining for lower drug prices. Americans are further cheated when corporations pay off generic drug manufacturers to delay entry of their products into the market, thereby forcing consumers to pay the highest prices for medicine.
We’re cheated again by certificate-of-need laws, which force many patients to accept established money-making procedures while denying access to modern technologies such as virtual colonoscopies.
And cheated yet again when the doctors we trust accept payoffs from pharmaceutical companies to promote the most expensive products.
And, like the hospitals, corporations are fleecing the public with unfathomable markups. After Gilead Sciences was criticized for charging $1,000 for a hepatitis pill that costs $10 in Egypt, the company responded by introducing a new pill that costs $1,350.
The Terror of Poverty Without Health Care
Uninsurance can be deadly. Low-income minorities are least likely to have coverage, and the resulting financial stress, as documented by over 200 studies, leads to sickness and early death. Over 40 percent of uninsured adults of color would be eligible for Medicaid if the program were adopted by all states.
But it’s not just the uninsured who feel the terror of unattainable health care. About half of privately insured Americans report experiencing financial hardship as a result of health care costs, and nearly half (43 percent) of sick Americans skipped doctor’s visits and/or medication purchases in 2012 because of excessive costs. Even though with Obamacare the uninsured rate has dropped by nearly a third since 2013, the average deductible has more than doubled in just eight years, from under $600 to over $1,200, in large part due to corporate austerity measures. Many Americans can’t afford this. A recent Bankrate poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans didn’t have savings available to cover a $1,000 emergency room visit.
The Best Medical Care in the World — For the Wealthy
Wealth promotes health. Super wealth buys an emergency room for the mansion or yacht or private plane, equipped with scanners, ultrasounds, x-ray machines, and blood analyzers. Or, if a hospital stay is needed, one fine option is a $2,400 suite with a butler in the hospital’s penthouse.
Not all of “concierge medicine” is so extravagant. Basic signup fees range from $1,500 to $25,000 per year, with premium memberships offering unrestricted online access to a doctor, although with extra charges for face-to-face services. It’s out of the question for almost all of us.
Yet with a farcical display of self-congratulatory capitalist trickle-down rationalization, Forbes proclaims that “these elite concierge medical practices are trailblazing methodologies and technologies that will, in time, be available to everyone.”
Little chance with a privatized system. The reality is that being sick and having nowhere to turn is terrorizing far too many Americans.
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Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.