by Jan Baughman
(Swans - June 29, 2009) While the debate over the details of health care reform continues and the negotiations between the two parties and the lobbyists escalate, the desire of 72% of the populace, according to a recent New York Times poll, for a government-run national health plan remains a dispensable item on the table. Before the deal is closed and this option is once again swept under the rug, it's important that we in the majority frame the issue, make our demands known, and not allow private companies to continue to set government agenda. As long as the health care system is profit-driven, from the insurance industry, to the pharmaceutical industry, and the medical providers themselves, there is no incentive to keep us healthy. Just like private prisons need crime to increase if their business is to grow, the US health care industry thrives on the illness of the populace, while myriad "non-profit" foundations flourish on the back of a government system that is deficient in its spending on research and treatment.
One tactic used to expand the profit base is to create new illnesses, for which new drugs are developed and sold. Another is to capitalize on the aging population, which stands to create a windfall for the sick-care industry. According to a new US Census Bureau Report, the number of Americans over 65 is projected to more than double by 2050, from 39 million today to 89 million. For $3,100 one can purchase an October 2007 market analysis by Visiongain entitled "Alzheimer's Disease Market analysis and forecasts, 2007-2012, 2017 & 2022." According to the report's ad,
Alzheimers disease (AD) is the third leading cause of death in recent times and with an unprecedented patient potential, this disease area attracts awareness from a broad base of stakeholders. With the grey population being the single most influential factor in driving the economic growth within this sector, Visiongain believes the real market to the AD industry still remains untapped.
Patient potential. Stakeholders. Economic growth. Untapped. They are referring to you and me -- untapped patient potential.
Americans aren't the only stakeholder target for untapped patient potential that will bring economic growth. You may recall my 2007 reference to a similar report on "Emerging Markets in Liver Cancer," in which China is becoming available to our health care profiteers thanks to globalization. Now, Datamonitor has introduced a June 2009 "Emerging Market Series: The Pharmaceutical Market of Saudi Arabia" for $5,700. According to its ad,
Increasingly westernized lifestyles have driven up levels of chronic disease, enhancing the need for drug intervention, with lifestyle products dominating the retail market. Many branded drugs despite their off patent status still command market leading sales and positive growth, underlining the preference for branded drugs in the Saudi Market.
Prioritizing profit over health is not new. The American Medical Association (AMA), the most recognized -- and political -- physician organization, has once again come out against single-payer health care (just as it did against Medicare). It is noteworthy that while President Obama recently gave authority to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco, as few as 30 years ago the AMA was defending the tobacco industry. As Devra Davis notes in her shocking investigation, "The Secret History of the War on Cancer," within two weeks of US Surgeon General Leroy Burney's 1959 declaration that cigarette smoking caused cancer,
...an editorial appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, calling this view into question. The editorial claimed that there were not yet enough facts to warrant 'an all or none authoritative position' about the relationship between smoking and cancer. The promptness of the rebuttal testified to the close ties the AMA maintained with the tobacco industry for years and the deep tentacles of both groups within the government. This important association of physicians was determined not to annoy powerful members of Congress from tobacco states, whose votes were needed on various issues about which the AMA cared deeply, including the looming threat of national health insurance.
Those battling against a national health care system have countered with options to fund it: requiring all Americans to buy health insurance (as in the law requiring vehicle insurance), and taxing employee health care benefits. The former solution would nicely increase the profits of the insurance industry; the latter would further weaken the already overtaxed and struggling middle class. Tax increases on the wealthy are never placed on the table, and interestingly, that same New York Times poll indicated that 64% of respondents with incomes of less than $50,000 were willing to pay higher taxes to allow for health insurance for all, compared to 52% of respondents with incomes over $50,000. In addition, only 44% of Republicans polled prioritized providing health insurance for the uninsured over keeping costs down, compared to 78% of Democrats who prioritized insurance for all.
The health care profiteers also invoke scare tactics -- loss of choice of physicians, months of waiting for an appointment -- issues we already face through our employer-offered packages. What they fail to mention is that Medicare recipients are actually more satisfied with their care that those in employer-sponsored plans. "Thirty-seven percent of elderly Medicare beneficiaries rated their coverage as excellent, versus 20 percent of the employer group," according to a Commonwealth Fund 2007 survey that also reveals a widening gap compared to a 2001 survey.
Access to health insurance does not equate to access to health care. Those forced to purchase individual insurance plans are faced with thousands of dollars per year in premiums and deductibles, such that the insurance primarily covers catastrophic illnesses, not the day-to-day ails that simply feed into the deductible. Nor is access to health care a benefit to be taxed -- it is a basic human right. It's time we weigh in on the debate before the door is slammed on our fingers by those who stand to profit from our injury.
In Poll, Wide Support for Government-Run Health, Kevin Sack and Marjorie Connelly, New York Times, June 21, 2009.
Life: A medical condition, Alasdair Cross, BBC, March 30, 2009.
Census Bureau Reports World's Older Population Projected to Triple by 2050, US Census Bureau, June 23, 2009
Davis, Devra: The Secret History of the War on Cancer, Basic Books, October 2007, ISBN-13: 9780465015665.
Commonwealth Fund (2009, May 12). Elderly Medicare Beneficiaries Give Their Coverage Higher Ratings Than Do Those With Employer-sponsored Insurance. Retrieved June 24, 2009, from Science Daily.
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