Healthcare vs. the Profit Principle

Healthcare vs. the Profit Principle

Sure we have a healthcare system in America. The trouble is, it’s designed not to make people healthy but to make money.

Facebook
Twitter
Email
Flipboard
Pocket

It’s always nice to see the President take a principled stand on something. The man formerly known as "43"–and now perhaps better named "29" for his record-breaking low approval rating–is promising to battle any expansion of government health insurance for children, and not because he hates children or refuses to cough up the funds. No, this is a battle over principle: private healthcare vs. government-provided healthcare. Speaking in Cleveland recently, Bush boldly asserted:

I strongly object to the government providing incentives for people to leave private medicine, private health care to the public sector. And I think it’s wrong and I think it’s a mistake. And therefore, I will resist Congress’s attempt … to federalize medicine….In my judgment that would be–it would lead to not better medicine, but worse medicine. It would lead to not more innovation, but less innovation.

Now you don’t have to have seen Sicko to know that if there is one area of human endeavor where private enterprise doesn’t work, it’s healthcare. Consider the private, profit-making insurance industry, which Bush is so determined to defend. What "innovations" has it produced? The deductible, the co-pay and the pre-existing condition are the only ones that leap to mind. In general, the great accomplishment of the private health insurance industry has been to overturn the very meaning of "insurance," which is risk-sharing: We all put in some money, though only some of us will need to draw on the common pool by using expensive healthcare. And the insurance companies have overturned it by refusing to insure the people who need care the most–those who are already, or are likely to become, sick.

I once tried to explain to a Norwegian woman why it was so hard for me to find health insurance. I’d had breast cancer, I told her, and she looked at me blankly. "But then you really need insurance, right?" Of course, and that’s why I couldn’t have it.

This is not because health insurance executives are meaner than other people, although I do not rule that out. It’s just that they’re running a business, the purpose of which is not to make people healthy but to make money, and they do very well at that. Once, many years ago, I complained to the left-wing economist Paul Sweezey that America had no real healthcare system. "We have a system, all right," he responded. "It’s just a system for doing something else." A system, as he might have put it today, for extracting money from the vulnerable and putting it into the pockets of the rich.

But let’s not just pick on the insurance companies, though I wouldn’t mind doing that–with a specially designed sharp instrument, over a period of years. Sunday’s Los Angeles Times featured a particularly lurid case of medical profiteering in the form of one Dr. Prem Reddy, who owns eight hospitals in Southern California. I do not begrudge any physician a comfortable life–good doctoring is hard work–but Dr. Reddy dwells in a 15,000-square-foot mansion featuring gold-plated toilets and keeps a second home, valued at more than $9 million, in Beverly Hills, as well as a $1.4 million helicopter for commuting.

The secret behind his $300 million fortune? For one thing, he rejects the standard hospital practice of signing contracts with insurance companies, because he feels that these contracts unduly limit his reimbursements. (In a battle between Aetna and Reddy, it would be hard to know which side to cheer for.) In addition, he has suspended much-needed services such as chemotherapy, a birthing center and mental- health care as insufficiently profitable. And his hospitals are infamous for refusing to treat uninsured patients, like a patient with kidney failure and a 16-month-old baby with a burn.

But Dr. Reddy–who is, incidentally a high-powered Republican donor–has a principled reason for his piratical practices. "Patients," the Los Angeles Times reports him as saying, "may simply deserve only the amount of care they can afford." He dismisses as "an entitlement mentality" the idea that everyone should be getting the same high-quality healthcare. This is Bush’s vaunted principle of "private medicine" at its nastiest: You don’t get what you need, only what you can pay for.

If government insurance for children (S-CHIP) isn’t expanded to all the families who need it, there is no question but that some children will die–painfully perhaps and certainly unnecessarily. But at least they will have died for a principle.

Thank you for reading The Nation

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply-reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Throughout this critical election year and a time of media austerity and renewed campus activism and rising labor organizing, independent journalism that gets to the heart of the matter is more critical than ever before. Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to properly investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories into the hands of readers.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Ad Policy
x