FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

America’s Healthcare Scandal

by DAVE LINDORFF

 

Politicians are fond of saying that America has the finest system of healthcare in the world, and no doubt it’s true that if you have endless resources, or a gold-plated health plan–the kind that is becoming increasingly rare as more and more companies shift more and more of their workers into ever stingier HMO’s or take away their healthcare benefits altogether–you can get medical care that is as good as it gets.

But for most of us, the picture is a lot grimmer.

Because healthcare in America is run on a for-profit basis, it is basically controlled by the paymaster, meaning the insurance industry. Medicare is an exception, but as the government continues to lure and push Medicare recipients off onto private HMO-type plans, even that is becoming increasingly a for-profit operation.

What does this mean? That the people who are making the decisions–both in terms of broad treatment policies and also in terms of individual patients’ treatment–are primarily motivated by cutting costs and maximizing profits.

Worse than that, because we’re talking about American business practices here, the people and companies that are making these critical medical care decisions aren’t even thinking about cutting costs and maximizing profits in a long-term sense. Given that most corporations consider long-range planning to mean looking a year ahead, they’re not likely to be thinking about what healthcare measures or individual medical treatments are likely to be cost-effective over a five or ten-year period, much less over the life of a patient, but rather, what will be the cheapest health policy or treatment over the next three weeks or three months.

For example, it would obviously be immensely more cost effective as a matter of national health policy over the long term–and certainly for individual patients–to have a national program of free vaccinations for the flu, which annually kills tens of thousands of elderly or infirm Americans. Saving those lives, and reducing the millions of person days thre rest of us spend miserably nursing the flu each year, would obviously represent an enormous cost savings even for the insurance industry that has to pay for all that care, but the initial outlay for all those vaccinations would be an upfront cost that would not be recovered for months. The result: no national flu vaccination program.

The same thing could be said for high blood pressure. If insurance companies all paid for routine screening and treatment of high blood pressure with the most effective medicines available (instead of pawning off only the older, less effective treatments on poorer patients), heart disease could be reduced dramatically, which would actually be a huge cost savings for the insurance industry (and for Medicare and Medicaid). But again, because the initial cost of such a program would be large and would not pay for itself over the short term, no one is doing this.

The list of such idiocies is endless.

Meanwhile, we are treated to scandal after scandal, courtesy of our vaunted free-enterprise medical system.

Consider the tale of Tenet Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chains. A few days ago, Tenet agreed to pay a $54-million fine to the federal government, in the words of the New York Times, “to resolve accusations” that the company’s hospital in Redding California had in conjunction with several of its doctors conducted unneeded heart operations on hundreds of patients who did not need such costly, invasive and life-threatening procedures. As is common in such corporate settlements with the government, Tenet (no stranger to scandal) was allowed to settle without having to admit guilt–a nice concession by the government, since it makes it much harder for those hundreds of victims of the surgeons’ knives to sue for malpractice damages than if the hospital company had been forced to admit its craven behavior.

Here’s a scandal that simply could not occur in a society with public medicine: Unnecessary heart surgery, performed on hundreds of people because the doctors and the hospital saw a way to make millions of dollars.

Tenet, in fact, is a new name adopted by a company once known as National Medical Enterprises. The name change was in large part an effort to distance the firm from its sordid past, which included an enormous scandal involving NME’s psychiatric hospitals, which were hit with one of the largest fines in the history of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for reportedly keeping psychiatric patients overlong in the hospital, often against the patients’ wishes, so as to collect more from Medicare and insurers. After a change in top management, the company emerged from that scandal, largely intact but with a new alias, though not, as the Redding Medical Center case demonstrates, with a new ethical standard.

Tenet is no exception, though. Columbia Healthcare, another large hospital chain, also has paid huge fines to the government for bilking Medicare–and in the end, much of that bilking inevitably involves unnecessary medical treatments. Smaller scandals, which occur routinely, don’t even make the national news. And we’re not even talking here about the large scandal–the denial of adequate treatement, or of any treatment at all, to tens of millions of American citizens who are without health insurance.

The sorry state of America’s healthcare system–the costliest in the world by far–should have the public screaming for massive reform. So far, however, all we’ve got on the table are Bush administration calls for more privatization of Medicare, and a bunch of pallid calls for some kind of minimal private insurance coverage for all from some of the Democratic presidential candidates. Only progressive candidate Dennis Kucinich is calling for a publicly funded national insurance program, though even his healthcare scheme continues to rely on private physicians and hospitals to actually deliver services–and even that modest reform is being ignored by the media (along with Kucinich’s entire campaign).

Maybe it’s time for a health victims’ march on Washington. The heart surgery victims of Tenet Healthcare could be the vanguard of the march, chests bared to expose the scars of their needless operations.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains, (Bantam Books, 1992) Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html

 

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

More articles by:
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
Andrew Levine
Why Not Hillary?
Paul Street
Hillary Clinton’s Neocon Resumé
Chris Floyd
Twilight of the Grifter: Bill Clinton’s Fading Powers
Eric Mann
How We Got the Tanks and M-16s Out of LA Schools
Jason Hirthler
The West’s Needless Aggression
Dan Arel
Why Hillary Clinton’s Camp Should Be Scared
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Flunks Decontamination
David Rosen
The Privatization of the Public Sphere
Margaret Kimberley
Obama’s Civil Rights Hypocrisy
Chris Gilbert
Corruption in Latin American Governments
Pete Dolack
We Can Dream, or We Can Organize
Dan Kovalik
Colombia: the Displaced & Invisible Nation
Jeffrey St. Clair
Fat Man Earrings: a Nuclear Parable
Medea Benjamin
Israel and Saudi Arabia: Strange Bedfellows in the New Middle East
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail