Connecting the dots in health care

Connecting the dots in the U.S. for-profit health care system draws a picture that could provoke outrage, mass action and important victories. Consider the following:



For-profit hospitals

New research by Dr. J.P. Devereaux, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that $6 billion of the $37 billion being spent in for-profit U.S. hospitals could be saved by converting them to non-profit status. Moreover, that huge cost cut would not harm patient care; it might actually improve it. Such obscene profits dramatize the greed in the U.S. health care system.

Devereaux is interested in for-profit hospitals because the lies told by these profiteers are permeating debates over the future of the public health care system in Canada. These debates must be informed by the truth of the costs of health care in the U.S., the only country in the world with a high degree of investor-owned, for-profit hospitals (13 percent of our hospitals).

For-profit hospitals are so much more costly than non-profits primarily because hospital profiteers have to generate revenue for stockholder investors. On top of that, they have excessively high numbers of administrators and pay them hefty salaries to generate these profits.

Dr. David Himmelstein, a Harvard physician and researcher, has pointed out the criminality of the major for-profit hospital chains. Columbia/HCA, Tenet, and Health South have each been convicted of Medicare fraud, with lower-level executives landing in jail. Tom Frist, U.S. Senate Majority Leader and Columbia/HCA heir, personifies corporate/political corruption. Frist works overtime in the Senate sending more money to the for-profits with federally enacted privatization schemes, such as Bush’s Medicare fiasco.



Health costs up 13.7 percent

With stockholders demanding ever-higher profits, health insurers are seeking major premium increases in 2005. to the tune of Aetna seeks a hike of 17.1 percent; Anthem, 21.2 percent; Cigna, 13.2 percent; Health Net, 18.9 percent and UnitedHealth Group, 10.2 percent. Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies, most of them not-for-profit, are mimicking these profiteers with an increase of 12.1 percent.

These figures will rock labor contract negations taking place in 2004 and 2005.



Hospital bills skyrocketing

The cost of hospital care is soaring. For example, a California appendectomy patient was charged $18,000 for a two-day stay. In New Jersey, a daily room charge has skyrocketed to $5,000. California’s largest group of employees, the California Public Employees Retirement System, plans to eliminate 45 of the most expensive hospitals in the state from its approved-for-reimbursement list, to cut costs.

Specific reasons for increasing hospital charges are many, but all come back to the profit motive and the greed in the medical-industrial complex.



French fight for health care

This is why all over the world, workers, their families and communities, and left and progressive political parties and governments, where they are elected, are struggling to keep the U.S. for-profit model out of their countries. On June 5, over half a million French people hit the streets to protest against the Chirac cutbacks, as part of the struggle to keep their health care coverage. They fight to keep the greatest threat to public health – the Bush administration – out of Europe and the world.

All eyes are on the November elections in the United States. The British, the Spanish, and the French recently voted against greed economics of the Bush administration. We are next.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.