Annual Fundraising Appeal

The US Geological Survey recorded a minor earthquake this morning with its epicenter near Wasilla, Alaska, the probable result of Sarah Palin opening her mail box to find the latest issue of CounterPunch magazine we sent her. A few moments later she Instagrammed this startling comment…

Ayers

The lunatic Right certainly has plenty of problems. We’ve made it our business to not only expose these absurdities, but to challenge them directly. With another election cycle gaining steam, more rhetoric and vitriol will be directed at progressive issues. More hatred will be spewed at minorities, women, gays and the poor. There will be calls for more fracking and war. We won’t back down like the Democrats. We’ll continue to publish fact-based critiques and investigative reports on the shenanigans and evil of the Radical Right. Our future is in your hands. Please donate.

Day10

Yes, these are dire political times. Many who optimistically hoped for real change have spent nearly five years under the cold downpour of political reality. Here at CounterPunch we’ve always aimed to tell it like it is, without illusions or despair. That’s why so many of you have found a refuge at CounterPunch and made us your homepage. You tell us that you love CounterPunch because the quality of the writing you find here in the original articles we offer every day and because we never flinch under fire. We appreciate the support and are prepared for the fierce battles to come.

Unlike other outfits, we don’t hit you up for money every month … or even every quarter. We ask only once a year. But when we ask, we mean it.

CounterPunch’s website is supported almost entirely by subscribers to the print edition of our magazine. We aren’t on the receiving end of six-figure grants from big foundations. George Soros doesn’t have us on retainer. We don’t sell tickets on cruise liners. We don’t clog our site with deceptive corporate ads.

The continued existence of CounterPunch depends solely on the support and dedication of our readers. We know there are a lot of you. We get thousands of emails from you every day. Our website receives millions of hits and nearly 100,000 readers each day. And we don’t charge you a dime.

Please, use our brand new secure shopping cart to make a tax-deductible donation to CounterPunch today or purchase a subscription our monthly magazine and a gift sub for someone or one of our explosive  books, including the ground-breaking Killing Trayvons. Show a little affection for subversion: consider an automated monthly donation. (We accept checks, credit cards, PayPal and cold-hard cash….)
button-store2_19

or use
pp1

To contribute by phone you can call Becky or Deva toll free at: 1-800-840-3683

Thank you for your support,

Jeffrey, Joshua, Becky, Deva, and Nathaniel

CounterPunch
 PO Box 228, Petrolia, CA 95558

The Skyrocketing Impact

Medical Price Gouging

by RALPH NADER

An epidemic of sky-rocketing medical costs has afflicted our country and grown to obscene proportions. Medical bills are bloated with waste, redundancy, profiteering, fraud and outrageous over-billing. Much is wrong with the process of pricing and providing health care.

The latest in this medical cost saga comes from new data released last week by National Nurses United (NNU), the nation’s largest nurse’s organization. In a news release, NNU revealed that fourteen hospitals in the United States are charging more than ten times their costs for treatment. Specifically, for every $100 one of these hospitals spends, the charge on the corresponding bill is nearly $1,200.

NNU’s key findings note that the top 100 most expensive U.S. hospitals have “a charge to cost ratio of 765 percent and higher — more than double the national average of 331 percent.” They found that despite the enactment of “Obamacare” — the Affordable Care Act — overall hospital charges experienced their largest increase in 16 years. For-profit hospitals continue to be the worst offenders with average charges of 503 percent of their costs compared to publically-run hospitals (“…including federal, state, county, city, or district operated hospitals, with public budgets and boards that meet in public…”) which show more restraint in pricing. The average charge ratios for these hospitals are 235 percent of their costs.

According to NNU’s data, the top 10 Most Expensive Hospitals in the U.S. listed according to the huge percentage of their charges relative to their costs are:

1. Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, Secaucus, NJ – 1192%
2. Paul B. Hall Regional Medical Center, Painsville, KY – 1186%
3. Orange Park Medical Center, Orange Park, FL – 1139%
4. North Okaloosa Medical Center, Crestview, FL – 1137%
5. Gadsden Regional Medical Center, Gadsden, AL – 1128%
6. Bayonne Medical Center, Bayonne, NJ – 1084%
7. Brooksville Regional Hospital, Brooksville, FL – 1083%
8. Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center, Davenport, FL – 1058%
9. Chestnut Hill Hospital, Philadelphia, PA – 1058%
10. Oak Hill Hospital, Spring Hill, FL – 1052%

The needless complications of the vast medical marketplace have provided far too many opportunities for profiteering. Numerous examples of hospital visit bills feature enormous overcharges on simple supplies such as over-the-counter painkillers, gauze, bandages and even the markers used to prep patients for surgery. That’s not to mention the cost of more advanced procedures and the use of advanced medical equipment which are billed at several times their actual cost. These charges have resulted in many hundreds of millions of dollars in overcharges.

When pressed for answers, many hospital representatives are quick to defer to factors out of their control. It’s the cost of providing care they might say, or perhaps infer that other vague aspects of running the business of medical treatment add up and are factored into these massive charges. Cost allocations mix treatment costs with research budgets, cash reserves, and just plain accounting gimmicks. These excuses shouldn’t fly in the United States.

Few in the medical industry will acknowledge the troubling trend. One thing is undeniably certain however — the medical marketplace is not suffering for profits. Health-care in the United States is a nearly 3 trillion dollar a year industry replete with excessive profits for many hospitals, medical supply companies, pharmaceutical companies, labs and health insurance vendors.

Americans spend more on health care than anywhere else in the world. One would hope and wish, at the least, that this enormous expenditure would provide a quality of healthcare above and beyond that found in the rest of the western world. The reality is that the results on average are no better than in France, Germany, Canada and elsewhere, which manage to provide their quality treatment without all the overcharges.

Much like our similarly wasteful, bloated military budget, the U.S. spends more on health care than the next ten countries combined — most of which cover almost all of their citizens.The United States spends $8,233 per person, per year according to a 2012 figure from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The average expenditure of the thirty three other developed nations OECD tracked is just $3,268 per person.

It gets worse. Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow, the leading expert on health care billing fraud and abuse, conservatively estimates that 10 percent of all health care expenditure in the United States is lost to computerized billing fraud. That’s $270 billion dollars a year!

And unlike other commercial markets, where the advance of technology routinely makes costs lower, the reverse trend is in effect when providing medical care — the prices just keep soaring higher and higher. The flawed, messy Obamacare system will do little to help this worsening profit-grab crisis, which is often downright criminal in the way it exploits tragedy-stricken people and saddles them with mountains of debt.

Steven Brill’s TIME magazine cover story from February 2013 titled “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” gives an in-depth and highly-researched rundown of the severity of the medical cost problem and provides some of the worst, most astonishing examples of profiteering off of the plight of the sick or injured.

Here’s a fact that puts the full scope of this troubling trend into perspective — Brill writes: “The health-care industrial complex spends more than three times what the military industrial complex spends in Washington”. Specifically, the medical industry has spent $5.36 billion on lobbying in Washington D.C. since 1998. Compare that expenditure to the $1.53 billion spent lobbying by the also-bloated defense and aerospace sector.

One line summarizes the breadth of Brill’s enormous piece: “If you are confused by the notion that those least able to pay are the ones singled out to pay the highest rates, welcome to the American medical marketplace.”

Americans who can’t pay and therefore delay diagnosis and treatment are casualties. About 45,000 Americans die every year because they cannot afford health insurance according to a peer-reviewed report by Harvard Medical School researchers. No one dies in Canada, Germany, France or Britain because they do not have health insurance. They are all insured from the time they are born.

Obamacare, which has already confused and infuriated many Americans — and even some experts — with its complexity made up of thousands of pages of legislation and regulations is clearly not the answer to the problem. Long before the internet, President Lyndon Johnson enrolled 20 million elderly Americans into Medicare in six months using index cardsCanada’s single-payer system was enacted with only a thirteen page bill — and it covers everyone for less than half of the cost per capita compared to the U.S.’s system. (Check out 21 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better Than Obamacare)

Enacting a single payer, full Medicare-for-all system is the only chance the United States has of unwinding itself from the spider web of waste, harm, and bloat that currently comprise its highly flawed health insurance and health care systems. It’s time to cut out the corporate profiteers and purveyors of waste and fraud and introduce a system that works for everybody.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.