Irritated pundits keep declaring they cannot imagine why Americans of all ages are flocking to the Occupy Wall Street movement. I found one reason for our common rage in the scripture reading for last Sunday – Leviticus 19:16 “you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor”. That really resonates with those of us who have never enjoyed vigorous health. Consider the issues addressed in Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act, which the Republicans are trying hard to strangle in infancy.
- A Texas insurance company denied coverage for a baby born with a heart defect that required surgery. Friends and neighbors rallied around the family to raise the thousands of dollars needed to pay for the surgery and put pressure on the insurer to pay for the needed treatment. A week later the insurer backed off and covered the baby.2
- In Los Angeles, a woman undergoing chemotherapy had her coverage cancelled by an insurer who insisted her cancer existed before she bought coverage. She faced more than $129,000 in medical bills and was forced to stop chemotherapy for several months after her insurance was rescinded.3
- One study found that 10 percent of cancer patients reached a limit of what insurance would pay for treatment – and a quarter of families of cancer patients used up all or most of their savings on treatment.5
What is this but profiting from the blood of our neighbor from whom we have taken premium dollars? Tales like this are endless, and most Americans know somebody who has been affected.
I remember the company-provided health care insurance I got in 1969 when I went to work. It covered hospitalization only, and that was pretty standard for that time. Later, as prices for doctors’ visits and drugs exploded, these were added to a system that hadn’t really been built for the purpose. Health care insurance became all important just to stay healthy (if you’re an asthmatic like me), so the insurance companies could demand just about anything they wanted.
The health insurance companies, for all the horror stories, are not the only culprits in health care costs run amok. I well remember my father’s reaction when the Frists first announced their plan for for-profit hospitals in Nashville. “There go hospital bills.” He was right.
While some for-profit hospitals provide excellent service for their patients, this is not the rule. Harvard Medical School performed a telling study in 2004.
In an accompanying editorial, Drs. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein of Harvard Medical School calculate that converting all investor-owned hospitals (13 percent of U.S. hospitals) to non-profit ownership could have saved $6 billion of the $37 billion spent on care at investor-owned hospitals in 2001.
“Investor-owned hospitals charge outrageous prices for inferior care.” said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler. “That’s not just an opinion, it’s now a proven fact. The for-profits skimp on nurses, but spend lavishly on their executives and paper-pushers.” Previous research by Drs. Woolhandler and Himmelstetin, based on financial filings by virtually all U.S. hospitals, found that administration accounted for 24.5% of total costs at non-profit hospitals vs. 34% at for-profits, while payroll costs for clinical personnel were 7 percentage points higher at non-profits.
Dr. Woolhandler also noted that: “Previous studies have shown a consistent pattern – investor-ownership compromises care and raises costs. For-profit dialysis clinics have higher death rates. For-profit nursing homes deliver lower quality care. For profit hospices give dying patients less care. For-profit rehab facilities cost Medicare more. And for profit HMOs deliver poor quality care and have extraordinarily high overhead costs. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that HMOs actually increases Medicare costs by at least $2 billion each year — and President Bush and the Republicans in Congress just handed them an extra $46 billion in the Medicare drug bill.” Dr. Himmelstein, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard commented: “For-profit hospitals milk the system for legal, but outrageous payments for executives and shareholders. And they also routinely bilk the system through fraud. Columbia/HCA — the largest hospital firm — paid a $1.7 billion settlement for overbilling Medicare last year. Tenet — the second largest — paid a half a billion dollars to settle fraud and abuse charges in the 1980’s (when the firm was known as NME) and is under investigation again for massive billing fraud, and performing hundreds of unnecessary heart operations. And HealthSouth — which dominates the rehab hospital market — just admitted to $3.4 billion in fraudulent accounting. In each case, the CEO who presided over the fraud was forced out. But only after Columbia/HCA’s got $324 million, Tenet’s received $111 million, and HealthSouth’s pocketed $112 million. In health care, crime pays handsomely.”
I’m leaving BigPharma out of the equation for now; this is enough to give us a picture to anger any American who has to use our health care system. – They are profitting from the blood of their neighbors and enjoying it.