The health care industry’s medical debt rip-off
While our doctors, nurses and technicians are among the best in the world, our health care system itself is not even designed for care, but for the constant expansion of profits for insurance giants, drugmakers, hospital chains, system managers, financiers and other voracious components of the medical industry. As one doctor angrily said of industrial health care: “Debt is no longer just a bug in our system. It is one of the main products. We have a health care system almost perfectly designed to create debt.” How sick is that?
For starters, ponder the term “medical industry.” The ethical essence of health care is that it’s a human right, essential to every person and to the common good. But corporate elites now claim to “own” our health by shriveling the concept of care to just another industrial product available to those able to pay whatever the monopolistic industrialists demand.
But this rationing of care meant the industry was leaving a mass market of millions of patients untapped, so the industry bean counters made a critical adjustment. Lower prices? Ha — don’t be silly! Instead, the industrywide system has been encouraging medical debt as the ticket to care. So, you come in sick or injured, scared and maybe incoherent or confused… and suddenly you’re hooked up to a long-term medical payment plan.
If it has happened to you, you’re hardly alone. In a startling finding, a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that Americans — including 41% of all adults — are in hock because of the so-called “care-industry.” This includes bills from the system itself, plus money borrowed from family or friends and medical debt that patients put on credit cards. An analysis three years ago estimated that families were being hit with at least $195 billion in payments for medical borrowing — a number driven dramatically higher since the pandemic.
Unfortunately, America has had no shortage of big business CEOs who turn out to be grifters, ripping off consumers, workers and others. The most vile of the corporate con artists are those who profiteer on people’s health care needs.
We’ve had such infamous, high-profile scammers as Medicare fraudster Sen. Rick Scott, Big Pharma price gouger Martin Shkreli and the Sackler family of opioid pushers. Worse, though, we now face an industrywide greed epidemic that is both pushing higher costs onto patients needing care and systematically pushing those who can’t pay the full inflated tab into debt schemes that bilk them with bloated interest payments that go on for years. Medical bankruptcies are soaring.
Here’s the most significant statistic in the opaque and convoluted world of health care economics: Half of U.S. adults don’t have the money to cover a $500 medical bill. As the system keeps jacking up its prices and profits, millions of families are forced by illness or injury into the dark valley of debt, inhabited by a shadowy network of ruthless debt collectors employed by the medical establishment. But wait, you say, I have health insurance! Still, ever-rising prices and out-of-pocket insurance requirements put you into debt, too. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 6 out of 10 working-age adults with health coverage went into medical debt in the past five years.
Most perversely, having health care debt prevents many people from getting health care. One in seven Americans say the corporate system has refused care to them because they have unpaid medical bills, and a two-thirds majority say they’ve put off care because of the fear of crushing debt. As one expert puts it: “The No. 1 reason — and the No. 2, 3 and 4 reasons — that people go into medical debt is they don’t have the money. It’s not complicated.”
What’s the most damning thing about America’s health care system? The system. To help stop the corporate grifters and profiteers, go to RIPMedicalDebt.org.
Jim Hightower is a nationally syndicated columnist.