10.04.2016

The Profit-Making Costs On Our Health

photo: Library of Congress
The profit-motivated US healthcare system not only makes our healthcare more expensive than other industrialized nations, it also changes our our culture and our behavior to make us less healthy.

One of the biggest problems with the American healthcare system is that it is a rigged economic game where you don't know the price of what anything costs, and yet the price of the unavoidable healthcare needs could bankrupt you.

This price blindness is a fundamental flaw in our so called free-market system, but it is far from the only flaw tied to profit-driven healthcare.

Since so many people fear the boogeyman of socialised medicine, let's talk about some of the problems with the alternative system we now suffer through.

As an aside, please don't equate Obamacare or the ACA with socialised medicine -- it is not. The ACA simply required people to get health insurance and required private insurance companies to sell it to them. These companies are still profit motivated and opposed to cooperating with each other for the sake of good patient care.

For profit corporations are poor actors in the healthcare business, and yet we continue to place more of our lives in their greedy hands. Drug companies in particular have finally been exposed to the spotlight as they have cranked up prices on life saving medications just to boost the share on Wall Street and the bonus of the top executives. While a few high profile examples have recently gotten attention of the media, this practice is widespread and continuing unabated.

As Fortune Magazine reported:
More than two-thirds of the 20 biggest pharma companies used price hikes to drive revenue growth in the first quarter of 2016, according to an analysis of corporate filings and earnings statements by the Wall Street JournalThe review also found that drugmakers have been relying on this tactic more and more and raising prices by higher amounts than before despite multiple Congressional inquiries into the practice and proposed reforms to tackle drug costs from President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and others. The findings underscore the enormous power that the biopharmaceutical industry maintains in a system where negotiations over prices and discounts are stratified across a decentralized mix of private insurers, government health programs, and drug benefit managers.
Yet another way that for profit companies negatively influence our healthcare decisions is through twisting science and lobbying government.

A recent episode of Tom Ashbrook's On Point had an excellent sampling of the horrifying impact on our nation's health.

Investigative reporters have recently uncovered evidence that drug makers lied to doctors to push the aggressive prescription of addictive oxycontin as "less addictive" alternative to drugs on the market. Documents show the drug makers knew this was not true. 

Moreover, these same pharmaceutical companies were responsible for lobbying to implement increasing the aggressive treatment of pain with narcotics. This is where the whole "pain is the 5th vital sign" originated.

Thus doctors in the United States are being penalized for creating an epidemic of narcotic addiction while at the same time their compensation is linked to surveys of patients asking if they got enough pain medication. That's why the United States -- which has only 5 percent of the world's population consumes two-thirds of the world's prescription pain medication.

It's not an accident of culture, but a concerted, planned out lobbying effort on multiple fronts designed to increase demand for a product. Millions of dollars are spent each year to boost demand for a product that is detrimental to the nation's well being.

In the same show, Ashbrook interviews researchers who discovered that a few well placed science papers in the 1960s allowed the sugar industry to divert scientific research away from carbohydrates and toward saturated fats as the cause for chronic health problems.

Of course this lead to the marketing of products with reduced fats and greatly increased the consumption of sugars.

On both issues we see the way our health culture has been altered by the pursuit profits at the cost of American lives.

Required reading:

Secret Trove Reveals Bold Crusade to Make Oxy a Blockbuster

The LA Times Series on the Oxycontin

How the Sugar Industry Shifted the Blame to Fat

To Make Big Profits, Drug Companies Use Monopoly Shenanigans

Drug Rep Arrested in Opiod Kickback Scheme

The whole On Point podcast is available and worth listening to.

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