Private Health Care as an Act of Terrorism

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

The FBI defines terrorism as "Acts dangerous to human life...intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." Much of the behavior of our current health care system meets that definition. The facts show intention on the part of corporations to intimidate the population by using market strategies to charge whatever they like for their medical products and services, and an effort to coerce the public into accepting the current system as the only option.

The Average American Family Pays $4,000 for Medical Fraud and Subsidies 

Medical billing fraud is estimated at 10 percent of all health care, or about $270 billion, while patent monopolies raise the price of prescription drugs by another $270 billion a year. Combined, this represents an astonishing annual cost of over $4,000 to an average American household. As The Atlantic puts it, "The people most likely to bilk the system are doctors and medical providers, not 'welfare queens.'" 

Intimidation by Outrageous Markups 

In a recent analysis of 50 hospitals (49 for-profit) with the highest charge-to-cost ratios in 2012, the average markup was 1,000 percent, which means that a procedure costing a hospital $100 is marked up to $1,000 for us. 

Some of the markups test the limits of sanity: an 80-cent needle for $143.25 (a 17,000 percent markup). A 25-cent IUD device for $1,000. A blood test that costs $10 in one hospital and $10,000 in another. 

A Johns Hopkins professor explained, "They are marking up the prices because no one is telling them they can’t."

Cheating and Coercion 

Pharmaceutical companies have successfully lobbied Congress to keep Medicare from bargaining for lower drug prices. Americans are further cheated when corporations pay off generic drug manufacturers to delay entry of their products into the market, thereby forcing consumers to pay the highest prices for medicine. 

We're cheated again by certificate-of-need laws, which force many patients to accept established money-making procedures while denying access to modern technologies such as virtual colonoscopies. 

And cheated yet again when the doctors we trust accept payoffs from pharmaceutical companies to promote the most expensive products. 

And, like the hospitals, corporations are fleecing the public with unfathomable markups. After Gilead Sciences was criticized for charging $1,000 for a hepatitis pill that costs $10 in Egypt, the company responded by introducing a new pill that costs $1,350. 

The Terror of Poverty Without Health Care 

Uninsurance can be deadly. Low-income minorities are least likely to have coverage, and the resulting financial stress, as documented by over 200 studies, leads to sickness and early death. Over 40 percent of uninsured adults of color would be eligible for Medicaid if the program were adopted by all states. 

But it's not just the uninsured who feel the terror of unattainable health care. About half of privately insured Americans report experiencing financial hardship as a result of health care costs, and nearly half (43 percent) of sick Americans skipped doctor's visits and/or medication purchases in 2012 because of excessive costs. Even though with Obamacare the uninsured rate has dropped by nearly a third since 2013, the average deductible has more than doubled in just eight years, from under $600 to over $1,200, in large part due to corporate austerity measures. Many Americans can't afford this. A recent Bankrate poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans didn't have savings available to cover a$1,000 emergency room visit. 

The Best Medical Care in the World -- For the Wealthy 

Wealth promotes health. Super wealth buys an emergency room for the mansion or yacht or private plane, equipped with scanners, ultrasounds, x-ray machines, and blood analyzers. Or, if a hospital stay is needed, one fine option is a$2,400 suite with a butler in the hospital's penthouse. 

Not all of "concierge medicine" is so extravagant. Basic signup fees range from $1,500 to $25,000 per year, with premium memberships offering unrestricted online access to a doctor, although with extra charges for face-to-face services. It's out of the question for almost all of us. 

Yet with a farcical display of self-congratulatory capitalist trickle-down rationalization, Forbes proclaims that "these elite concierge medical practices are trailblazing methodologies and technologies that will, in time, be available to everyone." 

Little chance with a privatized system. The reality is that being sick and having nowhere to turn is terrorizing far too many Americans.

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This has been reposted from Common Dreams.

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Image from MilitaryHealth/Flickr.

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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