When asked what enemies she was proud to have made during her political career, Hillary Clinton mentioned, in order, “the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies [and] the Iranians.” Pretty villainous company to place healthcare industries into. But Clinton is not alone among presidential candidates in vilifying pharmaceutical and insurance industries for, as Bernie Sanders puts it, “ripping off the people.” Donald Trump called pharmaceutical profiteering “disgusting” and claimed that “insurance companies are making a fortune because they have control of the politicians.” Marco Rubio blamed high drug prices as “pure profiteering” by pharmaceutical companies. It is a strange world when Republicans join Democrats in vilifying people and companies who pursue profits through the marketplace.
Even stranger, neither party is taking aim at a group of people in the healthcare industry who have been making a fortune by exerting enormous influence over healthcare spending. No one seems to be vilifying physicians.
Yet if candidates are looking to blame someone for high healthcare costs in the United States, they should include physicians, whose decisions–to order tests or treatments–are responsible for the bulk of healthcare spending. Yes, pharmaceutical companies are charging exorbitant prices for many of their products. But patients do not receive expensive medications unless physicians prescribe them. True, insurance premiums are very expensive and rising rapidly. But those premiums reflect the cost of paying for all those services that physicians order for their patients. And some of those services reflect physician fees, which for some subspecialists are quite high. Many American physicians are extremely well paid for their work, with the median allergy doctor making almost $300,000 a year, and the median gastroenterologist making almost $400,000. Indeed, American physicians often take home 50 to 100% higher annual incomes than their peers in Europe or Canada.
So why aren’t politicians vilifying physicians? Because when they turn their attention to the role of physicians in driving up healthcare costs, candidates shift from blaming people to blaming the system. When laying out her healthcare plans, for example, Clinton remarks that “we need to shift away from the fee-for-service payment system that rewards providers who prescribe excessive tests and unnecessary procedures.” Jeb Bush also criticizes the reimbursement system, complaining that “providers are not being held directly accountable to patients for the value of the care they deliver.”
When pharmaceutical and insurance companies drive up healthcare costs, they are villainous. When physicians drive up costs–it is the system that is to blame!
(To read the rest of this article, please visit Forbes.)