Who’s Making Money off the Health Care Crisis?

Since this is my first contribution to Tort Deform: The Civil Justice Defense Blog, before I get started in earnest, I thought I should introduce myself. I have been covering health policy and access to healthcare on Daily Kos for about two years. In the world of blogging, I have become the de facto health policy expert there.

Those of you who may be familiar with me know that I work on a volunteer basis with an oncologist at a Manhattan hospital. I often write about what I witness first-hand--the daily assaults perpetrated by insurers against both insured and uninsured Americans who find themselves sick, vulnerable, and at the mercy of an unforgiving system.

On Daily Kos, researching and writing about the American healthcare crisis always leads to this one question: How can the richest nation on the planet allow 47 million of its own citizens to go without basic healthcare services? Forty years ago, healthcare accounted for about 5 percent of GDP. Today it hovers around 16.5 percent. This is a flagrant example of government policies that are clearly not working and not good for America. Not having access to affordable healthcare is a black-and-white kind of issue. And what I discovered is that there are no "good" answers and an awful lot of bad ones. Or self-serving ones. And there's also just a lot of good old-fashioned lying and spin going on out there.

These issues are important in and of themselves, but are also critical elements in the debate about "tort reform" and the causes of increasingly unaffordable healthcare in America. Right now the national narrative suggests that medical malpractice lawsuits are primarily responsible for skyrocketing medical costs, and the inability to provide all Americans with basic healthcare. In fact, the costs of malpractice premiums amount to about 1 percent of total U.S. healthcare expenditures. I will be taking a critical look at all the explanations for spiraling healthcare costs, and investigate the veracity of the present national narrative.

Let this also serve as a warning. When it comes to commonsense right and wrong, I'm not good with nuance - and I don't see an ounce of nuance in such a failure.

I've also taken to heart the words of Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos. At the first Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas this past June, Markos talked about "people-powered politics." I quote:

"We now have the ability to support leaders wherever they may be. Leaders that would never have a chance in the traditional world of establishment politics or media... People power is a wonderful thing. Everyone can be a leader. Everyone can be a strong voice. Everyone can make a difference. There has been far too much talent, far too much passion, far too much intelligence in this country marginalized by the establishment currently stinking up Washington D.C. And now, that talent has an outlet. It can no longer be marginalized."

His words inspired me. So I continue to educate myself about our imploding healthcare system and to participate in the national discussion about fundamental, far reaching, and long overdue healthcare reform. If this makes me a leader, that's great. I prefer to describe myself as an outraged American. It's a badge I'm pleased to wear.

Within this one Big Question, I ask a lot of smaller questions - and, as I said, there are no good answers for many of them.

The Denver Business Journal begins the discussion by wondering Who's Making Money off the Health Care Crisis?

The question is, really: Who's making the most?
And like everything in health care - a $2 trillion industry in the United States - the answer isn't simple. The really complicated issues, and the ones that generate the most controversy, are:

What's driving the high cost of medicine? Who's to blame? What can we do about it?

The questions typically set off finger pointing among insurers, hospitals, doctors, lawyers and others.

I have even more "profound" questions, such as, what good are insurance companies if they refuse to pay for life-saving treatments?

There's no acceptable way to frame such a foolish question. But this is what the healthcare meltdown has come to in America - need I remind you, still the richest country on the planet.

If you concede, as I do, that our system is absurd, then asking questions like the one I just posed above becomes much more rational. There are other ridiculous questions I'll be asking. Things like:

Why are pharmaceutical company reps buying physicians golf clubs?

Why are insurance companies making medical decisions?

Why are uninsured Americans expected to pay retail for hospital care while insurance companies pay wholesale?

Why is our entire system geared to maximize profits for Wall Street?

Today, I have two more inquiries:

What good is health insurance if insurance companies can legally refuse to pay for absolutely essential medical care, chemotherapy, and medications?

What good are drugs if sick people can't afford them?

We'll be discussing all this and much more in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

NycEve: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 2:19 PM, Sep 13, 2006 in Health Insurance
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Great post as always Eve. I like your stuff on Daily Kos too!

Posted by: ann on | September 13, 2006 11:11 AM

Hi ann-

Thanks so much. Good to see you here.

Posted by: Eve Gittelson | September 14, 2006 6:23 PM