Let’s stop pretending it was a government takeover of healthcare

By Deborah Burger for The Hill

If the Obama healthcare bill is just a “government takeover,” why are healthcare industry CEOs being rewarded with so much money?

The alleged expropriation of healthcare by big government is, of course, a major story line of the right and the new leadership of the House which is planning the useless exercise of a vote to repeal the law.

But if the private companies who actually do control our health are hurting so badly, why are they shelling out so much to their top executives?

A report from Kaiser Health News exposes lavish pay packages for some of the biggest players in the private healthcare industry. Billy Tauzin, the head of PhRMA, raked in more than $9 million last year, for example, while his counterpart Scott Serota at Blue Cross/Blue Shield earned a comparitively-miserly $7.1 million.

Other major corporate healthcare figures receiving huge executive pay packages were from the hospital, medical technology, and biotech industry.

As KHN notes, most of these execs supported either the entire law or key aspects of the law. It is a fiction to assert that healthcare corporations have in any way been harmed by this reform, or will be harmed. Their pay practices to top executives make that very clear.

Drug companies won a victory by blocking re-importation of prescription drugs. Insurance companies won a victory, for the time being at least, with millions of forced new customers from the mandate. Hospital revenues are expected to spike, medical technology companies will see a surge in sales, and biotech firms won a dubious 12-year exclusivity for brand name biologic drugs.

Given that, do we really need to replay the same debate over the current law over and over? Will that solve any of the still very real problems that exist? Those notably include the tens of millions of Americans who remain uninsured, many of whom will not be covered even if the law goes into full effect, and the millions more who are slammed daily by un-payable medical bills and ever rising costs that the bill does so little to address.

Reminders of the continuing healthcare crisis come regularly. To name just three:

1. The U.S. ranks just 22nd in health well-being among major industrialized countries, according to a UNICEF report issued in December.

2. Growing numbers of parents with premature babies, or children born with special needs, according to another KNH report, are being socked with huge bills for neonatal care because the health professionals are deemed to be “out of network.”

3. Only 58 percent of private sector employees have access to paid sick leave, according to a report out this week from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Among the consequences, many sick employees come to work because they can’t afford the unpaid lost time, especially in a deep recession, at risk of aggravating their illness and facing more serious sickness, more lost time, and higher health costs, and the likelihood of infecting others in their workplace.

It’s time to move on. Let’s end the fiction that the current law was a government takeover. Let’s stop replaying the fruitless debate of the past two years over the false issues the right loves to exploit.

And let’s find ways to address the continuing health problems plaguing so many by working instead:

To really reign in skyrocketing costs, that are primarily driven by the very same profiteering private companies whose executives are being paid so much, and guarantee healthcare for all Americans, best done by expanding the most cost effective, real universal program — it’s called Medicare — to cover everyone.

Deborah Burger, RN, is co-president of National Nurses United, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of RNs, with 160,000 members around the country.


  1. Ellen Franzen on January 25, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Just a quick editing comment. It’s “to rein in skyrocketing costs”, not “reign”. That’s what Queen Elizabeth II does. Otherwise, I can only say I’m really grateful for the Kaiser coverage my family has.