Americans pay more for healthcare compared to other nations but don’t have better outcomes. Unbridled money in politics is part of the reason why.
The many issues surrounding the U.S. healthcare system have been a point of political controversy for decades, and despite differences in approach, most Americans agree our system is in need of reform. The past two years of the global pandemic have only increased the costs of healthcare services, and served to further highlight the problems that plague this critical sector of our nation. Meanwhile, the healthcare industry spends millions of dollars supporting presidential and congressional candidates on both sides of the aisle to ensure continued influence on healthcare policy.
While the path to a more equitable, affordable and humane U.S. healthcare system is anything but simple, what is clear is that the fundamental problem of money in politics profoundly affects this industry in ways that can mean life or death for everyday Americans.
Healthcare Lobbying Increases the Cost of Care
In 2021, healthcare industry lobbies spent nearly $700 million—an increase of more than 300% from the $167 million spent in 1998. This money is toxic to our healthcare system, and directly drives up healthcare costs. It also reduces everyday Americans’ political influence on this critical system, enabling “wealthy political donors, who do not represent voters, [to] have overwhelming influence on achieving their own preferred legislative healthcare policies and distort markets to favor their own narrow interests,” as American Promise volunteers and healthcare professionals Marie HenselderKimmel, Roberta Duda and Ellen Greene Bush wrote in testimony to Congress two years ago.
Today, Marie, a retired obstetrician-gynecologist, follows up on this statement: “The last two years have starkly illustrated the concerns we expressed in our statement. One example is the influence on the issue of reining in high drug prices. Totals spent on industry lobbying have broken records in the last two years, consistently led by the Pharmaceuticals and Health Products industry group. … Although the catastrophic health crisis of the pandemic stressed our healthcare system and resulted in an economic crisis, legislative efforts to reduce the costs of our expensive medical care have been stymied by donations from the pharmaceutical industry, as reported by the Center for Responsive Politics. Stat News reported that more than two-thirds of Congress cashed a pharma campaign check in 2020 with a focus on members of key committees that oversee healthcare.”
Overburdened Healthcare Workers in a Profit-Driven System
In addition to driving up healthcare costs and preventing average Americans from making our own decisions about the healthcare regulations that affect our lives, this profit-driven system harms healthcare professionals, especially frontline workers such as nurses, who have faced profound stress and trauma in the face of the pandemic. Healthcare resignations have reached crisis numbers (the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that America’s healthcare system has lost nearly half a million workers since February 2020), as burned-out medical professionals are ignored by a top-heavy and profit-centered healthcare industry. In response to the desire to maximize profits in hospitals—the consolidation of which leads to higher healthcare prices and insurance premiums—nurses report chronic understaffing, directly leading to increases in patient deaths and worsened healthcare outcomes.
Healthcare Inequities are Driven by a Top-Heavy System
This top-heavy system, resistant to regulatory shifts, is also linked to the unjust racial wealth gap, which has left communities of color at a systemic disadvantage exacerbated during the pandemic. Historical inequalities in wealth have compounded over generations to create disproportionately uninsured or underinsured communities of color with fewer financial resources to endure the pandemic.
The wealth gap demonstrates the vulnerability created by the unbridled concentration of money among a small group of people who use it to influence elected officials and policy decisions. The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on communities of color is another stark reminder of the need to level the playing field and amend the Constitution to regulate the influence of money in politics.
We Must Pass the For Our Freedom Amendment
The U.S. healthcare system is made up of people who are passionate about providing care to their fellow Americans. The American people agree that we need healthcare reform. But the big money political machine has created a top-heavy healthcare system entrenched in the status quo and driven to maximize profits rather than care, and drastic changes remain unlikely as long as healthcare policy remains in the grip of big money.
The decisions that affect the healthcare industry directly impact our lives. American citizens need a healthcare system that promotes their best interests rather than the interests of a wealthy few. In order to make our voices heard in these life-or-death decisions, we must pass the For Our Freedom Amendment.