This helps us understand the state of US healthcare. Okay, so it's not really murder of healthcare. Just a trillion dollars of annual extra spend (or half the US total) compared to say, France or Germany for same or worse care. As my article implies, roughly a third of the trillion dollars go to extra profits or earnings above "free market rates" to providers - drug companies, doctors, hospitals. The remaining two thirds of a trillion dollars is the inefficiency or "lose-lose" costs of keeping the current system in place.
How does this relate to the novel? If the high US healthcare prices were due to one factor unfairly enriching just one player, then that factor would have quickly been singled out and eliminated amidst the full glare of media and political spotlight. Instead we have multiple factors at play that enable each industry player to blame others and thus all can get away with "reasonable doubt."
Then of course with about $300 billion in excess rents at stake it is a no-brainer for the industry players to collectively plunk, say, a mere billion dollars annually to buy off (or "influence") policy makers. This helps to maintain the status quo or even alter it to further benefit the players. It's no accident that the drug benefit for seniors (Medicare Part D) costing about $43 billion annually are largely a giveaway to drug companies and private insurers with far less value to the seniors who are the professed beneficiaries. And Paul Krugman in one of his several articles describes how positive government involvement such as a VA (veteran's) health system built up in the Clinton era is stymied by business interests and their Conservative allies.
Lest all this is too general, let me recap some activities by industry players contributing to high US healthcare prices:
- Trial lawyers and the ABA styming tort law reforms and capping of malpractice damages.
- Drug companies overcharging for drugs by mislabelling government negotiations as "price controls" and taking advantage of a system where patients pays a fixed deductible. So patients don't care about prices, even when drugs have only marginal extra benefit.
- Doctor bodies controlling the physician pipeline to ensure that there's a shortage of doctors, instead of letting free market forces determine the supply.
- Hospitals consolidating to gain monopoly pricing power, and refusing to provide transparent pricing. In the process they often charge outrageously ($10 for an ibuprufen or aspirin pill or $75 for a box of tissues.)
- Private insurers opposing a competing public plan. I'm all for private insurance, but why not allow competition without unfair subsidies by a government institution? (P. 4 of 7 of John Edwards' plan envisages this.)
That's only five activities and players. Apparently you don't need twelve like in the novel to get away with it.