Profiteering blocks health care

Citing the cost of health care, Republican Majority leader Dr. Bill Frist conveniently set aside his Hippocratic oath to do no harm. He says that providing health care for all people in the U.S.A. is “not possible.” Without blinking an eye, Frist said, “It’s impossible to get everybody covered … It’s impossible to get to 100 percent.”

Well, Frist is right. Allowing profits to control hospital care and the manufacture and distribution of prescription drugs while cutting the taxes for the wealthy does indeed preclude a national health system in the USA.

We have a contradiction. The richest country in the world cannot do for its people what every European, Scandinavian, and most other industrial countries, even poor countries, can – provide health services to the people.

The explanation is painfully simple. The USA is the only country in the world that so ruthlessly places profits before people. While this problem is rampant in every aspect of health care (e.g. access to care, prescription drugs), hospitals are typically cited as the worst offenders.





Hospitals seek huge profits

Frist is the expert on profits in health, especially hospitals. His family runs the largest for-profit hospital system in the United States and the world, Hospital Corporation of America (HCA). He is well aware that it is not possible for for-profit hospitals to charge affordable rates and still turn the huge profits he and his investors demand. They have been caught bilking Medicare and Medicaid for billions of dollars, yet they make policy.

The Columbia/HCA Medicare fraud case holds the record as the largest Medicare fraud case in history. HCA suddenly agreed to pay the biggest fines in the history of Medicare just before Frist took over his leadership position in the Senate. HCA is owned by Frist’s father and brother who were both implicated in the fraud.





Private, not-for-profit

Even the so-called not-for-profit, private hospitals maintain $500,000 to $1 million annual compensation for their CEOs. At the same time, these private hospitals are cutting back their “charity” services for those with limited or no health insurance coverage. They are laying off hospital workers, including nurses and physicians, putting all patients in jeopardy.





Public hospitals

Even public hospitals, where they still exist, are being forced to put money before patient care. Severe cutbacks in federal, state and local financial support of public hospitals are creating a crisis in these last–chance health facilities. A federal bailout of these state and local public hospitals should be on the front burner.

All these problems can be traced back to profiteering in hospital care. And it matters beyond money. The Institute of Medicine has cited the conditions of U.S, hospitals as contributing to over 100,000 unnecessary patient deaths in these facilities.





Electoral and legislative action

Bush and Frist have to be kicked out of public office. Health care activists must keep the pressure up for a comprehensive universal national health program. Seeking support of the National Health Service bill of Barbara Lee (HR 3000) and both Conyers bills (HR 676, his single-payer bill, and HR 99, a more broadly-based, unifying proposal for universal health care) is a good idea. Offering candidates for congressional office in this menu is the healthy direction.

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