The health care industry in the U.S. is not organized to serve the medical and health needs of the population – its main priority is the generation of profits. And this is what stands in the way of quality health care.
The Highest Costs
In the U.S., health care is a $2.7 trillion industry. The U.S. spends about 18 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, twice as much as most other developed countries. Americans spend twice as much on health care per person than any other country in the world, and health care costs have been increasing by about eight percent every year for the past 15 years. On average, the U.S. spends $8,322 per person per year on health care and is ranked 37th for overall care among rich countries. But France is ranked number one in health care and spends less than half at $3,997 per person.
The main reason that the U.S. spends more money on health care is because private, for-profit companies are squeezing money out of the industry every chance they get – the hospital companies, the drug companies and the insurance companies.
Drug companies have one of the highest profit margins of any other industry, including Wall Street banks. Drug companies make between 10 to 42 percent in profits while banks make 5 to 23 percent. In 2013, the top five drug companies made $49 billion in profits – and their top CEOs each make about $27 million per year.
Because the profit margins are so high, drug companies have an incentive to push new drugs, whether they are safe or not. Drug companies have teams of lawyers to keep their drugs patented and hugely overpriced. This is an extremely corrupt industry that pays doctors to push their prescriptions. In 2012-2013 three of the top five drug companies were fined a combined $4.7 billion for misrepresenting the effectiveness of their drugs.
Despite all the hype about the Affordable Care Act, the profits of health insurance companies are still increasing. In 2013, the top five health companies made a combined $18.8 billion, their highest year on record. Health insurance executives are among the highest paid in the health care industry. The average health insurance CEO made $14 million dollars in 2013, some as high as $30 million dollars.
And after all of this extra spending goes to profits – what kind of care do we actually get? According to a study by the World Health Organization that compared the overall health of the population of eleven different countries – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. – the U.S. ranks dead last.
Drug companies push medication that is expensive and unnecessary. Hospitals charge outrageous prices for basic services. In one report, hospitals were found to mark up a one-dollar bag of saline to $737. Also, most hospitals have an incentive to carry out more expensive treatments, even if they are unnecessary.
At the same time, hospitals are critically understaffed at all levels. In a recent survey of 7200 doctors, over 50 percent complained of being burned out because of seeing too many patients – a patient is often scheduled every 15 minutes. Doctors commit suicide twice as often as the rest of the population. And of course the pressure is not just on the doctors, but workers at all levels of care. This constant pressure to increase the numbers of patients is good for profits but bad for our health.
We don’t live in a society where our health is important. As long as enough of us are able to go to work, and earn profits for corporations – our health doesn’t matter. The health of their bank accounts is more important than the health of the workers who make this sick society run.