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A Private Health Care Monopoly?

Health care agencies are falsely assumed to be part of the free-market when in fact, they lack the defining factors of such.

Managed Care Organizations drive the state of health care, decide who, when, and where care should be provided and encourage doctors to make decisions that they would not normally make. These organizations, mostly insurance companies, run the system and make choices that are not always best for the buyer, but best for themselves – the opposite of true free market businesses.

The health insurance industry has spent millions lobbying against the overseeing of their industry, ensuring they can put profit ahead of patient care. Governmental regulations that would normally stop for-profit companies from gaining too much control are sidestepped, and the government lacks enforcement powers in most cases. Groups like the American Medical Association also lobby for special rules that protect the interests of those who stand to make money off of the monopolization of health care by doctors, hospitals and their networks of diagnostic and care centers.

A Supreme Court precedent actually gives all physicians and health care workers an exemption from antitrust laws. Competition promoted by the free market is not present in health care, but collusion is. Providers do not truly compete with one another for customers. The health care industry meets just about every condition that can potentially inhibit competition. Many barriers to entry, few buyers and sellers, industry information is costly and easily misunderstood, market change is slow, buyers do not decide based on price, and agencies are systematically tied together. There are good healthcare systems, such as the one at UCLA, that provides great care while providing great UCLA benefits.

Insurance companies are making rampant profits by denying care to those who need it most, yet political jargon is used to stop the health care system from moving into any other direction. The system is broken; it focuses on treatment rather than prevention.

Americans spend more on health care than most other industrialized nations, yet enjoy very mixed benefits of that increased cost. There are definitely drawbacks to alternatives, such as universal health care – technology may be slower to reach some areas, hospitals will have to wait for new expensive machinery, and specialists may be rationed to one per area. But people still rate their satisfaction with these systems as higher.

Achieving wealth parity should be a priority in terms of overall health for our country. Even in countries that provided universal health care, low-income persons experienced poorer health and were at greater risk for chronic degenerative disease, often linked to high levels of stress. Since the wealthy already enjoy the ability to purchase health insurance, and the poor do not, this further exasperates how the poor view themselves: As inferior and unworthy of being cared for.

The upcoming Obamacare plan will disallow companies from denying people based on preexisting conditions, but it won't cap the price of health insurance which will inevitably jump. Health care providers will then continue to shift their burden of care onto home health workers and family members (disproportionately women). Though these two groups will provide nearly $300 billion in economic services, they work for free or next to nothing.

There's no perfect alternative, as health is a complex issue that must be addressed from a multidisciplinary viewpoint. Yet privatized health-care is not the free-market entity that it is assumed to be and is not providing the citizens of our country with the care they deserve.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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