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Crisis in Care: The Failure of the Market Economy

 

The market economy has proven itself to be an absolute and utter failure. Those who insist that the “market” is the best way to run a country seem to be missing one of the basic human things that human hearts do, care. Care means “to look after or to provide for” but in a market economy “care” gets in the way of profits and thus care has to be eliminated for the market to “work.” The American healthcare system is the prime example of this but it is true for every industry the market economists and Wall Street financiers touch.

Imagine for a moment what market economic principles would do to our publicly funded highway system. Publicly funded enterprise is what the uncaring market evangelists call “socialism” and is to be avoided at all costs. What would it be like to have different companies in competition with one another owning the highways and roads we drive on? First, toll booths would be set up for each driver to pay for their use of the road owned by one of several competing companies creating lines and delays. Toll booths would be a considerable capital investment for the road owners so those costs would have to be recouped and the company would then look for ways to cut costs in order to give the companies a profit. The companies would of course be characterized as American heroes by the market pundits on TV due to all the “jobs” they had created, despite their being less than minimum wage jobs all taken by disenfranchised immigrants with no benefits, no care.

If you turned left off of Broadway, owned by Global Roads Inc., onto 12th Avenue, owned by Highways International, you would have to stop at a toll booth and pay. Oh, but 12th Avenue costs too much so you have to stay on Broadway until you get to the more affordable Third Avenue which you find is reduced to one lane due to its poor condition and you wait in a line of traffic for 30 minutes as you miss your doctor appointment, no care

Maintenance costs would soon be targeted and would have to be reduced to make roads more profitable so they would not get fixed as often. The work would be farmed out to a paving company who in order to be competitive is forced to cut the quality of the road building materials so the roads would not last as long which would guarantee more future business for them. Their competitors would have to do the same to stay competitive. Pretty soon the American highway and road system would be a shambles, a national disgrace, just like our rail system. People would be delayed getting to work, the doctor or the store while vehicle maintenance costs would skyrocket as suspensions were battered and destroyed by the poor roads. Meanwhile the large companies extracting profits from monies intended for the operation, building and maintaining of roads, would be pursuing a costly but tax deductible, and very sexy, advertising campaign telling us all that American roads are the best in the world.

Then, because the roads are a critical link in the economy, they would have to insist that the government pay huge subsidies to help them keep the roads in shape. With that, taxpayer costs for roads would double and triple in very short order, due to the profit taking and burdensome bureaucratic management costs, while quality would continue to diminish. Government would soon go bankrupt, just as Grover Norquist and his Neo Con friends have been working to do. The market evangelists don’t care about quality or efficiency, they care only about profits, the proverbial bottom line, which most people understand not to be “care” at all but greed.

That scenario sounds absolutely awful and so ridiculous that no one in their right mind would consider such an idea, however, that is exactly how the American healthcare system is being operated today; multiple companies in competition cutting costs to be profitable. The entry of for-profit, business-minded companies into health care was supposed to make it more efficient. Instead, it’s given us the world’s largest, costliest health care bureaucracy, engulfed by red tape and maddening complexity. The average American spends countless hours on the telephone correcting billing mistakes, arranging medical appointments, obtaining test results, or securing referrals-an exercise in frustration that cumulatively costs the economy billions of dollars in lost time. As a result, costs once borne by insurers have been trans­ferred to you. In some areas of the country, waiting times for routine tests such as mammograms can stretch into months. Too often, treatment delayed means care denied.

America’s health care system is totally out of whack. Insurers pay for medication to improve a man’s erection and deny coverage for women’s birth control pills. Taxpayers subsidize the cost of pharmaceutical research and then pay more than anybody else in the world for the drugs produced through that research. Government imposes needlessly cumbersome regulations on health care facilities while withholding the resources that would enable them to comply. Wall Street rewards investors who acquire health care properties and then cut staff and ser­vices to make the facilities more attractive to the next buyer. American companies that do business in the global marketplace are forced to absorb costs their international competitors don’t face. Doctors who make mistake after mistake are seldom sanctioned, driving up the mal­practice insurance premiums of all the good doctors. Hospitals charge the highest prices to those least able to pay. Again, care denied.

Rather than health care for everyone, the free market has given us huge corporations with multibillion-dollar profits, presided over by the new corporate royalty, whose names regularly appear among America’s highest-paid executives. Care goes down as profits go up.

Although the system richly rewards some, it fails to protect its most vulnerable citizens. It discourages doctors from practicing in rural areas, where specialists are in such short supply that low-income children must depend on volunteer physician airlifts from big cities to per­form tonsillectomies and other routine procedures. At the same time, the system has made it possible for unscrupulous practitioners to vic­timize elderly patients by performing painful, dangerous procedures that are unnecessary but highly profitable. Not profitable for you or me but to a few companies and their investors. American business ethics on Wall Street are in the gutter. Cheating people out of their money, their environment and their lives has become the way to profitability.

Care, care for one another, care for our neighbors, our children, even care for the very planet we live on is being undermined by market economics. Yes, we have a crisis in care in America and great care is the only thing that will fix it.


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One Response to “Crisis in Care: The Failure of the Market Economy”

  1. Tom Paine Says:
    June 18th, 2006 at 9:42 pm

    In virtually every other industrial nation healthcare is regarded as a social issue, as the right of every citizen. The U.S. stands alone in regarding healthcare as a “commodity”, available only to those able to pay for it.

    We are constantly told that the U.S. has the best healthcare in the world. But that depends on what you mean by “best”. It is true that we have perhaps the most advanced medical technology in the world. But the healthcare system itself is substandard when measured against that of other nations.

    The wealthy received very good health care indeed. But the average person pays more for less compared to those in other countries, more for their insurance, more out of pocket expences, more for medicines.

    Everyone talks about lowering healthcare costs. Well, the most expensive healthcare is that you receive at the emergency room. Which is where those unable to afford insurance are forced to get their care. They don’t pay for, they can’t. We do, in the form of increasing costs for procedures and medical supplies. True savings in healthcare could be achieved by providing universal, basic healthcare for everyone. Then the emergency rooms would revert to their true purpose, emergencies.

    Or consider healthcare for pregnant mothers, and for young children. Health care during and immediately following pregnancy is crucial for the mother to to give optimal care to her child. And while costs for childcare are less than those for adults, problems brought on by inadequate healthcare at a young age can cost much more later on. One of the most successful federal programs ever, WIC (Women & Infant Children — a nutritional supplement and childcare program), had a return of 3 to 4 dollars in savings on child healthcare for every dollar spent.

    Facts such as these lead me to believe that the corporate healthcare industry is not truly concerned with reducing costs. As a method of social control, however, it can be quite effective — if you are constantly worried about being able to hang on to your healthcare from your job, it makes you less likely to notice the man behind the curtain pulling your strings.

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