How monopolies have stolen the debate over affordable care


vol. 1 issue 29


Have you given up talking about how healthcare in the US might be delivered more efficiently and affordably? Do you figure it’s a lost cause at this point, and so just hope for the best while you grit your teeth to make your monthly premium?

If so, then listen up.

My guest on this episode of the docu-mental podcast is Olivia Webb. She’s a healthcare consultant at The Open Markets Institute, a think tank dedicated to reclaiming the debate over how best to apply antitrust laws in this country.

After four decades of antitrust law enforcement being in service to something called “consumer welfare” — essentially, practices that lead to goods and services being offered at the lowest price possible — I think it’s important to examine how this has cut into our rights as citizens. I even wonder aloud in this episode if the primacy of consumerism is antithetical to citizenship in a democracy, whether being told that the kind of “convenience” that is offered by conglomerates like CVS comes at the expense of informed choice.

Think about it: without the power to choose, we no longer have the power to exercise our freedoms. Without freedom, what is democracy?

And, when health insurers, of which there are fewer now than ever thanks to a series of mergers in the last decade, are the ones telling us which doctors we can and can’t see, and are the ones telling physicians which drugs they can and can’t prescribe, where is our freedom, much less, the “consumer welfare”?

We are all witness to the fact that our healthcare is not delivered at the lowest cost possible. But we don’t know why, and we don’t know what “the lowest cost possible” should look like because the system is so opaque.

It’s opaque because those who stand to gain from our ignorance — monopolists and other profiteers — want it that way. In America, while we’ve been told that we have the market power as consumers to choose what is best for us, instead the opposite has become true.

In the US, if we truly had consumer choice — and consumer welfare — we would be the ones directing how healthcare decisions are made. But, as my guest in this episode points out, we do not have the facts, we are not allowed to see actual costs, and worse, the lanugage of healthcare economics has become so obtuse, many of us are afraid of looking too stupid to talk about it.

I argue that by outsourcing our choices over how we will receive care and thus of how our bodies are utilized by this profit-driven system, we’ve become the suppliers and the products, not the consumers in a pernicious system that we are told is one thing but is really another.

This is a podcast that I hope will get you thinking so that you can demand current and future elected officials speak plainly about healthcare rather than pretend that what they say is true — that of course, we all want basic care for all in this country — is not actually subsumed by the greater truth: profit is more important.

We don’t have to accept we are powerless. And they don’t either.

If you have a reaction to this podcast, please leave it in the comments section, and feel free to tweet, or otherwise share it. Best of all, suggest to your other thinking friends and family members that they subscribe to docu-mental. It’s free, unless you also want to be a premium member. Either way — the more thinking people, the better.