Monday, July 15, 2013

The Corrupt US Health System, and the Refusal of the American Media to Say So

I have, in two previous posts, offered opinions on why so much of what we talk about in this blog cannot really be understood unless we say the word corruption:

Well, once again Dr. Roy Poses at Health Care Renewal has beaten me to it, but see his recent post:

There are a couple of take-home messages from this latest round, so bear with me.

First message: Dr. Poses tells us about the most recent survey conducted by Transparency International, whose work he’s been following since 2006 and which I refer to in my own posts above. Critical findings for the US are that 43% of Americans think that the US health care system is corrupt. If you think that’s OK, you can contrast with the two horrible “socialized” countries, who are often held up as examples of the depths to which America would sink if we ever allowed the government to “take over” health care and actually guarantee every citizen access to basic health services. The respective judgments of corruption in the health system are 24% in Canada and 19% in the UK. On the other hand, in fairness, at least one country in Europe with a health system often held up as a model we should consider emulating does seem to have equivalent problems, with 48% of Germans thinking their system is corrupt. (France is better than us at 28%; Japan is slightly worse at 47%.)

This is against the background of a problem that the US shares with much of the rest of the world. Most people in most countries think two things—first, that corruption is getting worse and not better; and second, that the institutions that are supposed to support democracy, notably political parties, are among the most corrupt aspects of society. In the US that means that 60% say corruption has increased over the last 2 years and 64% say that the US government is run by a few big special interests and not by what’s good for the people.

Now, just to elaborate this message a bit more, why on earth would Americans think their health care system is corrupt? Dr. Poses also provides us in his blog with a snapshot of one possible reason (why only “possible” we’ll see in a minute):

Dr. Poses contrasts the praise that John Reynolds earned in 2005 when he stepped down after many years as CEO of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, where incidentally he earned a cool $1.3M in his last year on the job, with his recently pleading guilty to two felony charges for taking illegal kickbacks from vendors while hospital CEO:

As Dr. Poses notes, no one at the Hospital for Special Surgery appears to have rethought the praise for the outstanding leadership and vision that Mr. Reynolds provided for the institution, nor questioned the size of his paycheck, or in any way accepted that this episode represents a black eye for the hospital.

OK, now for the second message—what Dr. Poses stresses in both of his blog posts is how the US news media has been almost silent on this story. Regarding the little story about Mr. Reynolds pleading guilty, only a couple of tabloids picked up on the Bloomberg News announcement. On the primary story about the recent corruption survey, the major US media outlets either ignored the news completely, or else reported only on corruption in other countries, and failed to mention any of the US statistics.

Why is this, you might ask? Well, I tried to provide the answer in yet another previous post:

So long as the US popular and political culture is in the throes of the belief system some call economism (and others call neoliberalism), it will simply not do to talk publicly about corruption. According to economism, the private sector can do no wrong and everything bad comes from government interference in the “free market.” So corruption is a taboo topic for several reasons. First, if corruption is rampant, then powerful interests are controlling the market and it’s not really free. Second, if corruption occurs both within corporations, and if corporations in turn corrupt the political process, we can no longer pretend that the private sector is pure and blameless. Third, to do something serious about corruption would require more—gasp—government regulation, while everyone loyal to the economism creed is aware that government regulation is never the right answer to any problem.

So, until we make inroads to the stranglehold that economism has on our public and political dialogue, don’t expect our media (who are controlled more and more by a few powerful business interests) to notice anything about corruption in America—especially not in our health system.


Judy B said...


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health blog said...

Corrupted and lower, lower quality.
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