by Dean Baker
This is the time when the excrement starts hitting the fan. The lobbyists are in overdrive, rounding up members of Congress just like the cowboys of the Old West would bring in the herd.
The industry groups will also have their friends in the news media working overtime hyping any possible obstacle to health care reform. And they are filling the airwaves with scary ads, warning that people will never be able to see a doctor again if meaningful health care reform passes.
Since there are trillions of dollars at stake, the effort is understandable. The basic story is simple. The insurance, pharmaceutical and medical supply industries, along with the hospitals and the American Medical Association, have rigged the deck so that they get rich at the public's expense. They have structured our health care system so that we pay more than twice as much per person as people in other wealthy countries, even though we get worse care by many measures.
The bloat in the health care sector is projected to grow rapidly over the next decade as health care consumes an ever larger share of the economy. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reports that just the increase in health care spending share of the economy over the next decade will cost us $4.3 trillion. That is equal to a health care tax of $57,000 for an average family of four.
Who benefits from the taxpayers generosity? CMS projects that $1.4 trillion, or $18,500 per family will go to the hospitals. Doctors and the pharmaceutical companies are each expected to score about $550 billion, costing families $7,300. And the insurance industry's share of GDP is projected to rise by $360 billion, or $4,800 for an average family.
These massive transfers are not the result of the wonders of the free market. These folks are getting money out of our pockets because their friends in Congress have rigged the deck so the money flows from us to them. For example, the government grants the pharmaceutical industry patent monopolies that prevent normal competition in the prescription drug market.
Unlike every other country in the world, the United States lets the drug companies use their government-granted monopolies to charge whatever they want. As a result, we pay nearly twice as much for our prescription drugs as people in countries like Canada and Germany.
Similarly, doctors are able to tightly control the supply of both US trained physicians and the number of doctors that can enter the country from abroad. If custodians had the same control over the labor market for janitors, they would all be making $80,000 a year.