The theme of my day yesterday was health care. First, I read this blood pressure spiking article from Pro Publica. Remember when I mentioned payday lending? Well, it’s the same idea—leeching off of the very people who can least afford it—except with medical debt.
In 2013, 79,000 debt collection lawsuits were filed in Nebraska, a state with fewer than 2 million residents. One collection agency in the state files an average of 120 lawsuits a day. The charges are often less than $100, but the judgements tack on court costs, attorney fees and interest, so for example one bill for $66 became $275. The collection agency then proceeds to relentlessly seize meager bank accounts and garnish the wages of low income people. Nice racket, right?
Nebraska may be the most egregious outlier among the 50 states, but it is hardly alone. The number one cause of personal bankruptcy in the US is medical debt; it results in more collection actions than credit cards. And the majority of bankruptcy filers have some type of health insurance.
This is your health care on capitalism.
Next up, a headline from The Washington Post caught my attention: The contradictory reasons cancer-drug prices are going up. After reading the piece, I cannot for the life of me discern what is “contradictory” about the reason(s) cancer drug prices are going up. SPOILER ALERT! It’s because they can get it. I know this will come as a shock to everyone, but it turns out that people with deadly illnesses desperately want these treatments, and will bankrupt themselves to survive.
For example, tetracycline, an antibiotic discovered in 1948, cost 5 cents for a 500 milligram capsule back in November of 2013…Nearly two years later, it’s coming in at $11 a pill — a nearly 2,200 percent increase. Clomipramine, an antidepressant developed in the 1960s used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, cost 22 cents per pill in November 2012. Now, it’s $8.17 — a 3,600 percent increase.
In 2010, Amedra Pharmaceuticals bought the rights to abendazole, an off-patent drug used to treat intestinal parasites. At the time, the average wholesale price of the drug was $6 a day. By 2013, it was $120 — a nearly 2,000 percent increase.
Back then, the Post offered this explanation, if you can believe it: “The trouble is this: right now, we can’t tell why prices are high, or even if they are high.” Are the writers and editors at the Post high? Because it doesn’t take a PhD in economics to understand what lies at the root of this phenomenon.
This is your health care on capitalism.
The most baffling thing about the article (besides its author remaining strangely mystified by the blindingly obvious) is that virtually every sentence in the article requires this clause appended: “in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries.” Like this:
The $10,000-a-month cancer drug has become the new normal, to the dismay of physicians and patients who increasingly face the burden of financial toxicity, in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries. A pair of new studies illustrate just how recently that pricing model has come into vogue and pull back the curtain on the strange market forces that push prices steadily higher in the years after the treatments are launched, in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries.
The first study, published in JAMA Oncology, examined 32 cancer medications given in pill form and found that their initial launch list prices have steadily increased over the years — even after adjusting for inflation, in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries. The average monthly amount insurers and patients paid for a new cancer drug was less than $2,000 in the year 2000 but soared to $11,325 in 2014, in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries.
A study published Monday in Health Affairs examined what happened to the prices of two dozen cancer drugs after launch and found that pharmaceutical companies on average increased prices 5 percent above inflation each year, in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries. That inflation dwarfed ameliorating effects from competing drugs being introduced, which resulted in an average discount of about 2 percent, in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries. And the biggest hikes — of about 10 percent — coincided with the drugs receiving approval for other conditions, in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries. In other words, when a drug became useful to a larger number of patients, the price shot up, in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries.
The findings highlight the often mind-boggling ways that drug prices behave, in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries.
YES IT’S TRULY MIND-BOGGLING. Jeezus.
But the Post wasn’t finished boggling my mind just yet. Next up came an article with this darkly comical headline:
It’s by a different writer, yet she too inexplicably forgot to append “in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries” to her sentences. ???
Nightmare stories of nurses giving potent drugs meant for one patient to another and surgeons removing the wrong body parts have dominated recent headlines about medical care, in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries. Lest you assume those cases are the exceptions, a new study by patient safety researchers provides some context, in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries.
Their analysis, published in the BMJ on Tuesday, shows that “medical errors” in hospitals and other health care facilities are incredibly common and may now be the third leading cause of death in the United States — claiming 251,000 lives every year, more than respiratory disease, accidents, stroke and Alzheimer’s, in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries.
She almost hints at it here:
[Kenneth Sands, director of health care quality at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center] said that one of the main barriers is the tremendous diversity and complexity in the way health care is delivered. [in the US, but not in other advanced Western countries.]
Ooh! So close.
[Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who led the research], said “When a plane crashes, we don’t say this is confidential proprietary information the airline company owns. We consider this part of public safety. Hospitals should be held to the same standards like they are in other advanced Western countries but not in the US.”
Gosh, ya think?
I’m just spitballing here, but could it have anything to do with the fact that the US health care system is primarily concerned with profits, not health? Nah. That would be evil.
THIS IS YOUR FUCKING HEALTH CARE ON CAPITALISM.
Sadly, this is all to be expected. The US is an exceptionally special snowflake, the Very Bestest Ever Country Ever In The World Ever™, so obviously we would never need to look elsewhere for obvious solutions to our exceptionally special problems. But it’s not like you’re going to hear about any of that from the Washington Post, the self-referential go-to news source for the Squirrel People (and Dick Cheney’s Lizard People) infesting the capital and defending the utterly indefensible status quo. For some reason Post staffers prefer to remain confused and mystified, sitting around scratching their heads, forbidden from using Google.