Elizabeth Warren says she’s “never met anyone who likes their health insurance company” and excoriates insurance companies for maximizing “their profits by saying ‘no’ to coverage.” Best-selling author and healthcare journalist Elisabeth Rosenthal refers to insurance companies as “well-deserved villains,” joined in that ignominious category by pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, who have greedily jacked up their prices.
Undoubtedly, the US healthcare system is bedeviled by greed, with drug companies, device manufacturers, hospital organizations, physician groups, and insurers scrambling to grab hold of a slice of the more than $3 trillion we spend on medical care each year. At its extreme, such greed leads people like “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli to hike their prices 10-fold, 100-fold, or more, placing affordable medical care out of the reach of people who need it. But focusing our anger at greedy drug company executives or rapacious hospital CEOs is dangerous, seducing us into thinking that the problem with American healthcare is bad people or bad industries—making us think that, if we could shame CEO’s into submission or rid ourselves of the health insurance industry, our problems will be solved.
The problem with American healthcare is not the existence of greed. It’s the rules greedy people need to follow to make money. The key to reforming American healthcare is not to demonize greed, but to change the rules of healthcare reimbursement.
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