Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Health Care

Earlier this year, in the midst of the civil unrest in Egypt, Michael Millenson pondered about the passive attitude of those lacking health care insurance and their failure to organize and “take to the streets”. Well, unless you are living under a rock, or are really busy seeing patients, you know that we have quite a few people “taking to the streets” nowadays. They call themselves the 99% and they are set to Occupy Wall Street along with a bunch of other cities across the country. They have been called everything from “the rise of a popular movement” to “anti-American”. Are these Michael Millenson’s uninsured finally standing up for themselves? Judging from the stories they write on the placards covering their faces, which look eerily similar to what you see at busy urban intersections (e.g. “Lost home and job, will work for food”), lack of health insurance is often cited as a source of misery, but so are student loans, lost savings and inability to find work. Although this peaceful movement of folks camping out in parks and marching down streets has no coherent message, their grievances are casting a large net directed at the destructive influence of Wall Street, big corporations and consumerism in general. Michael Millenson should be satisfied, since health care is most definitely included in this all-encompassing indictment of an unjust society, and here is why.

But first a little detour into terminology. The word “care” originates from the Old English caru, cearu "sorrow, anxiety, grief," also "serious mental attention" for the noun, and carian, cearian "be anxious, grieve; to feel concern or interest" for the verb. When it comes to one’s health, with the exception of patients, their loved ones and increasingly fewer and fewer doctors, nobody in the medical complex experiences any feelings of anxiety, grief or even true interest or concern for the sick, although they may experience all of the above for the cash flow associated with treating sick people. The term health care is an anachronism from a bygone era and it needs to be changed. Health Services seems a much better fit with the prevailing consumer philosophy, which brings us to the next point.

Ever so gradually and insidiously, the term consumer is replacing the term patient in health services contexts, just like it replaced the term people in larger contexts. The etymology for the word consumer dates back to the early 15th century as "one who squanders or wastes", and in economic sense, "one who uses up goods or articles (opposite of producer) from 1745”. Interestingly enough those who presumably advocate for poor and vulnerable populations and even our own government are enthusiastically standing up for their constituencies of squanderers and wasters. Sometimes terminology describes existing realities and sometimes carefully chosen terminology shapes reality. We are witnessing the latter. The big corporations being targeted by those who Occupy Wall Street, have a long, and productive, history of manipulating the 99% into using up as many goods and articles as possible, and then some (i.e. debt), while extracting both profit and power from an increasingly impoverished society. Squandering and wasting is the secret sauce for a consumerist world order, and the medical complex is no different. According to Forbes, in the midst of a recession, CEO pay has increased in 2011 by 28% compared to 2010. The highest paid CEO in America, at $131 million per year (twice as much as the second CEO on the list), is running a health services company. Makes perfect sense. After all health services are quickly approaching 20% of a successful wasting and squandering economy. $131 million is peanuts by comparison.

But here the big corporations are encountering a big problem. The U.S. government, that is supporting a large portion of the waste and squander in the health services sector, is running out of money, and the squanderers themselves seem unwilling to waste their own money on health services. They much rather debt finance homes, cars and iPhones than, say, colonoscopies and designer drugs. The solution to this quandary is a brilliant one-two punch. First we use the bought and paid for government to educate consumers that in a world of finite resources, after skimming the $131 million type “compensations” from the top, only those who have their own resources (i.e. cash) should expect to continue wasting and squandering health services. Second, to compensate for lost revenue from government’s support of health services consumption, we employ two, time tested, strategies. We convert non-consumers to consumers by giving them free small things to lure them into buying more expensive items. For example, we give out free cholesterol screenings so we can create a recurring revenue stream from statins and hopefully more expensive interventions down the road. After all there is a huge untapped market of 50% of Americans who barely use any health services.  Then we increase the prices of everything from health insurance to direct services, by eliminate those obnoxious small businesses floundering in this space and fragmenting our ability to negotiate higher prices. The government is of course expected to help with the necessary laws and regulations, and so far, keep your fingers crossed, it’s going rather well. With a little bit of luck, smart consumers will soon realize that it is in their best interest to spend money they don’t have on the medical complex rather than the real estate market, which has gotten more than its share already, or the high tech gadget market which is booming, or the automotive market which is dead anyway (except for Audi who is selling cars for a crumbling infrastructure littered with trash). It’s all about reallocating extortion revenue and nobody is in a better position to do that than the medical complex. Brilliant indeed.

As the ancient prophet said “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” [Ecclesiastes 1:9], all of the above has been tried before, in this case by the legendary Mullah Nasreddin, and we know how it ends:

One winter Nasreddin had very little money. His crops had been very bad that year, and he had to live very cheaply. He gave his donkey less food, and when after two days the donkey looked just the same, he said to himself, "The donkey was used to eating a lot. Now he is quickly getting used to eating less; and soon he will get used to living on almost nothing."
Each day Nasreddin gave the donkey a little less food, until it was hardly eating anything. Then one day, when the donkey was going to market with a loan
[sic] of wood on its back, it suddenly died. "How unlucky I am," said Nasreddin. "Just when my donkey had got used to eating hardly anything, it came to the end of its days in this world."

To the 99% of us donkeys out there: Occupy Health Care Now!


  1. Will a dollar help to turn you into an organic dieter? Check out this funny video. I enjoyed watching this!

  2. This is exactly why I try to stay away from the blogosphere. You have no real understanding of these issues. You're just spewing terminology. Do you discuss these issues with people face to face? Surely someone has pointed out the blaring incongruence of thought. If you can't hack math at least take a logical reasoning class. You're upset. You should be. Disassociate yourself with the Democratic Party; it is as guilty a wretch as any opposing party, corporation, or class. Be an independent. Study these issues in depth. At this juncture I find none of your ideas to be even remotely humane. They border more on savage anarchy, maybe even terrorism, than on justice.