Genuine Capitalist Enterprises are Not Operating in Anti-Competitive, Government Rigged, Systems.
As a proponent of capitalism, I resent the U.S. privatized, government-funded, health care system and the implication that it is a suitable representative of a capitalist system. It is not. The system of nursing homes, hospitals, and clinics through which patients pass for care is a financialized, corrupt, rigged, system. Furthermore, some services important to society should not be industrialized under the farcical notion that return on capital will drive quality care.
Reformers have failed to create a narrative to defeat the financiers’ mantra that privatizing appropriate government services will increase quality and productivity. History has taught us a very clear lesson: industrialization and privatization of medical care and a host of other government services are unproductive and lead to excess extraction of capital, lower productivity, and reduction of innovation and reinvestment.
You Can’t Shame the Shameless
There is an unfounded belief that exposing bad operators in sensational mainstream media articles will force a change for the better in nursing homes and hospitals. The misguided view that the medical-industrial complex will be moved by horror stories reminds me of an old T-Shirt in my closet with the following silkscreened on it: “We Don’t Care, We Don’t Have to Care, We’re EXXON.” You could substitute the words medical-industrial complex, The American Health Care Association (AHCA), Ensign Group,” Welltower Corporation, Centene, United Health, and thousands of other corporate associations and entities for EXXON on such a T-Shirt.
Nursing home and hospital corporations don’t care about the shaming they deserve because politicians in federal and state legislatures have their backs. Furthermore, they have captured the agencies charged with regulating them. The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and 50 state agencies are dominated by the industry and their well-financed lobbying organizations (not to mention the FDA, the FTC, the CFTC, etc.). You can shame private equity as a business model, scurrilous operators, low wages/salaries, understaffing, and other outrageous practices, but financiers in the healthcare business are, for the most part, shameless.
For at least a decade, I have been urging advocates to form a narrative and political strategy. Playing rope, a dope with an industry that has a very well devised, effective, and well-funded narrative will change nothing. The nursing home industry has a narrative based on falsehoods, which are comprised of frames related to the hardships endured by noble businessmen and investors. Frames in which the industry purports to be suffering from low Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement, and low net income (profits) are blatantly false and misleading. Regardless of how unbelievable the frames comprising industry propaganda, they are never seriously challenged by the constellation of nonprofit and government entities representing the elderly. Furthermore, do-gooder commissions charged with studies of nursing homes, hospitals, and other health care subsystems generally whitewash and paper over the unethical, inhumane, and anti-democratic nature of the entire medical-industrial complex.
Let’s Get Technical
I propose that advocates create frames that can be integrated into and support this narrative: “The privatized U.S. healthcare system is not fair, capitalistic, or ethical.” Frames accusing industrialists of manipulation of markets, financial machinations, pay offs/bribes to legislators, and covering up corruption through well-funded lobbying entities such as the AHCA (nursing home lobby) are necessary but risky for professionals who want to go along to get along.
Industry moguls and their minions in government know from 70 years of history that their propagandistic efforts work well. They have been able to convince the public that privatized, for profit, services are better than non-profit and government services. This mantra has gained traction and is embedded deeply in the American zeitgeist. It will take a concerted effort across a broad array of nonprofit advocacy organizations to destroy a narrative based on industry lies and complex financial maneuvers.
However, before advocates can suitably frame messages for the media and legislators, a considerable amount of research, data collection, and analysis must be undertaken. Data and evidence related to “rent seeking,” “net operating income,” and “cash flow,” is necessary for debunking the “low net,” “thin margins,” and other hardship frames of the industry. The nursing home system must be unraveled and explained as a network of capital flows from taxpayers and other sources through Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), private equity firms, LLCs/LLPs, and C-Corporations.
It is necessary to show how excessive capital flows through nursing homes and hospitals to investors and executives. REITs have been existing under the radar and never discussed at legislative hearings (See my blog post: “Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are Big Players in the Nursing Home Industry: That Should Concern All of Us” February 13, 2021). We must recognize how the entry of private equity and REITs around 2000 literally transformed the industry.
Advocacy research must include data from cost reports submitted by facilities to CMS and state agencies. Falsehoods in these reports are pervasive. Nevertheless, it is important to organize the data to make a case and support our frames pertaining to corruption and excessive extraction of capital at the expense of care.
We Are on It!
A team of people across the U.S. have come together to initiate solid, evidence-based, research. With some help from the LTCCC and a lot of volunteer work, a group of us have been organizing data from cost reports and digging into financial machinations, ownership, and the flow of capital from various sources (including taxpayers) to investors, executives, and family wealth.
We want to direct attention to more than horrendous examples of nursing home abuse and neglect. The industry justifies poor care with a well-honed, richly funded, propaganda campaign. We should not respond to their “woe is me pleas for increased funding.” Rather we should follow the money and make the trail available to legislators and journalists that we know will utilize it (think Senator Elizabeth Warren). I don’t want to engage them in their claim that investors in the nursing home industry are suffering. My only response to that is investors are not stupid. If returns were no good in public-funded, skilled nursing care, investors would be investing somewhere else.
 By labeling the system “financialized,” I mean that financial maneuvering for extracting cash takes precedence over increased productivity and quality of services. Shareholder value is the primary mission of most healthcare private corporations. Stakeholders are of secondary importance. Often stakeholders suffer for the sake of enhancing and protecting shareholders’ interests.
 While COVID was surging in the Spring of 2020, CMS convened an “independent” commission the management of which was outsourced to the Mitre Corporation. The report of this commission was a whitewash and papered over general neglect by the nursing home industry which resulted in 200,000 patient and employee deaths. Contrary to suggesting accountability for lack of infection control and no preparation for a pandemic that scientists had been warning about for decades, the final report recommended more financial assistance for the industry. Recently, a commission under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) in operation for a number of years entitled “National Imperative to Improve Nursing Home Quality” issued a report of their work. This commission tiptoed around the corruption, deceit, and excessive extraction of capital at the expense of quality care.
 “Rent seeking” has evolved in the field of economics to describe corporate efforts to extract wealth without a correlative increase in the production of goods and services. The nursing home, finance, real estate, lobby is constantly hectoring legislators for an increase in reimbursement without any real, scientific, evidence that the cash flow and return on their investment is inadequate.