Evil Profit Prophets

We are in a series exploring the idea of a single-payer healthcare system.  Click here to find the prior posts.

OK, my liberal friends, we have to deal with something before we go any further.  This canard you pull out about the profits of healthcare companies, particularly insurance companies, being the source of the problem is not helping your case.  To quote the best comedy bit Bob Newhart ever did, ‘Stop it.’

Some readers just paused and headed over to YouTube for a good laugh. You remember how funny it is. The youngsters said, ‘Bob who?’  Quit reading and go watch the sketch.  It will change your life far more than whatever I say in this post.

You know I am not on retainer to defend the member organizations of America’s Health Insurance Plans.  In fact, I pick on the big commercial payers so often than I am starting to feel bad about it.  Just joshing. I love making fun of them and believe I am doing God’s work when I do.

But spend three minutes on Yahoo Finance looking up the 2016 Net Income of United, Anthem, Aetna, Cigna and Humana.  Or just read the next sentence.

Combined, the top five total up to $14 billion, half of which is UHC. 

Yes, any number with eleven digits is big, but that is less than one half of one percent of the total three and a half trillion.  You could take all insurance company profits and not make a dent in the problem.

We could do the same exercise for the five biggest US-based pharma and bi-tech companies (J&J, Pfizer, Merck, Gilead, Allergan) and sure enough, there is a lot more profit there – $55 billion, in fact.  That is about 1.7% of the total spend.  We are cooking with gas now.

How about the for profit hospital chains?  Beyond HCA’s $2.9 billion, it gets really small, really fast.  Yep, most of the biggest health systems in the country are already non-profit.

So, if you think you are going to pay for this single payer system by simply confiscating all of the profits, you are also going to find yourself digging in the sofa.

And that doesn’t even deal with the primary question: Why should healthcare be the ONLY industry in the country where profit is forbidden?  Defense contractors make money selling to the Pentagon and highway construction firms get to make a buck; we even have for-profit schools and prisons.  Heck, we now have for-profit charities, companies doing social good while turning a positive bottom line.  Grocery stores provide an important basic life necessity (seems the right to food would even supersede the right to see a doctor) and we somehow can see fit to let them make a little scratch, too.  So really? Healthcare is somehow so, so unique that it must be the only industry not allowed to make money?

And of course, that would in no way have a negative impact on innovation or access to care, right?

Did you go to YouTube?  Then listen to Bob stop it with this lame argument.  If you want a single payer system, make a better case than this one.


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Tim Coan, ALN’s CEO, writes an insightful and witty blog three times a week about a variety of topics relevant to independent physician practices.

Yes, I'd like to get Tim's blog.