Why Do Americans Put Up With Their Inferior, Costly, Medical Care System?
My colleague Kent Comfort’s post today is a story to which most Americans can relate – astounding and inexplicable charges for an emergency room visit or a seemingly simple procedure in a hospital or clinic. Why do the American people put up with the most costly, inefficient, and corrupt medical system among countries with developed economies?
The simple answer is that we have been indoctrinated to believe that we have the best medical care system possible in the best of all possible worlds. We are even told that we have the best medical care in the world. The alternative, according to propagandists, is the dreaded socialism – never mind that the British National Health Service is government owned and operated, exceedingly fair to the population, and costs much less than U.S. medical care. Also, over the past few decades, London and the British Iles in general have become engines of global finance and capitalism. While Margaret Thatcher was on her privatization tear, she made it very clear that she would not touch the NHS.
Propaganda and conditioning of people in nation states are ordinary across the globe. Governments in advanced industrial nations are sophisticated and effective in selling policies and programs that are not in the public’s best interests. Although the British National Health Service is among the best in the world at a cost of $4,653 per capita compared to the U.S., paying $11,072 and struggling with a wasteful system failing a large part of the population, the ole “socialism is bad” propaganda rears its ugly head at the mention of a national, single payer system. What we are told (and far too many people believe) is that we can’t afford to do better. Apparently, we can only afford to pay more to do worse.
The real historical circumstances leading to the embarrassingly bad U.S. medical care system have nothing to do with “socialism.”
I will make the case that the current industrial medical system in the United States has its roots and initial conditions in Jim Crow, Southern Democrat opposition to health care equality for African Americans that would most certainly occur in a federally administered, single-payer, universal medical care system. Furthermore, the American Medical Association, Northern Republicans, and Southern Democrats waged a rabid and successful war against President Truman’s single payer plan through a well-financed propaganda campaign.
The AMA would not even recognize the right of African American physicians to practice medicine and excluded them from its all-white, politically reactionary organization. Furthermore, the AMA was a powerful force in state politics and could exercise considerable control over education and licensure, which are determinate of physician income. Hence, a white supremacist and powerful group of physicians joined forces with other racist and reactionary forces to stymie Harry Truman’s national health care plan.
Had the Southern Democrats supported President Truman in his quest for a single-payer, universal health care system, it would have made it through congress and be as much a part of the U.S. government and economy as the National Health Service is an integral part of British society. The Senators and Congressmen from the South were white populists and supportive of New Deal programs for whites such as Social Security (agricultural & domestic workers were excluded), the Hill Burton hospital construction program (hospitals funded under Hill-Burton were allowed to remain segregated well into the 1960s), and other programs that benefitted whites.
Poverty medicine, Medicaid, Exclusion, and Lower Tier Care
Under the leadership of Arkansas Congressman Wilbur Mills, one of the most powerful congressmen in U.S. history, the single payer Medicare system for the elderly was accompanied into law by the means-tested, poverty Medicaid system. Mills was a bigot and signatory to the Southern Manifesto (signed by all Southern Democrats in congress), which was a protest against Brown v. Board of Education.
As Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, Mills maneuvered Medicaid into existence to prevent expansion of Medicare to younger age groups. Furthermore, the states’ role in Medicaid would allow for harassment, stigmatization, and lower tier medicine, all of which would help keep African Americans in an inferior status in Southern states.
Privatization and the Monetization of Poverty
Poverty is paying off for some of the largest corporations in the United States. Medicaid is a cash cow for providers running for profit hospitals, nursing homes, and medical supply companies. For instance, the Centene Corporation is in the business of managing Medicaid programs for states. Centene executives were paid a combined $64 million in 2020. The company’s CEO was one of the highest paid executives among the Fortune 500 executives.
In the weeks ahead, we will be further making the case that Americans have been conditioned to believe that the health care system they have is the best they can afford and deserve. That’s false. We will expose the corporations making excess earnings, paying high dividends, and providing poor care.