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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/19/20

COVID-19 and The Cost Of Medicine For Profit

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When the coronavirus hit about two months ago, the western nations gleefully pointed the finger at China where the virus originated. Drumming up old anti-China memes and fervently wishing that the world's second largest economy would be taught a comeuppance lesson their supine media dramatized the "epic failures" of the government to handle the outbreak and waxed eloquently about the violation of human rights after the Chinese government locked down an area of over 11 million people and confined people to their homes. The message? We can do better; we're advanced economies and "we got this."

Now these same governments are battling the virus and going every further than the Chinese government in their desperate efforts to stop it spread. Moreover, as a matter of fact, they have TOTALLY screwed up the responses, underestimated the virus's spread and its deadly consequences by burying their c0ollective heads in the sand and their "that can't happen here," attitude despite the loud and urgent warnings from organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO.)

The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and all across the European Union there is now panic and anxiety as the full extent of the pandemic hits home and governments are paralyzed. Interestingly, China is now reporting fewer and fewer cases, and its now slowly getting back to normal as a global recession looms large (some economists are saying that the world is already there). The difference between China and the west? Well, China put its economy on hold and moved to put its people first. In the west profit comes first as every day, incessantly, the mainstream media lament the fall of the stock markets and big business hold their hands out for financial bailouts from governments in the obscenest corporate welfare imaginable.

And the virus takes its grim toll in the United States amidst the now-legendary incompetence, and chaotic, erratic, mix-message responses of the Trump Administration as the epic failures of a bloated, inefficient and profit-driven health system is being exposed for all to see. New York City where the largest cluster of the disease now is, the state's ultra-competent and organized governor Andrew Cuomo, has been giving New Yorkers and America an object lesson in people-to-people communications, and in the process exposing and explaining the weaknesses of the United States trillion-dollar health system and its clunky, slothful response.

We need to look no further than the issue of ventilators and their short supply to understand what Americans are facing relative to the global pandemic. In case you missed it, ventilators are the medical machines that help patients breathe or breathe for them. So, in the context of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States they're a life-saving necessity for people suffering from the worst symptoms of the disease. In short, they are necessary to keep people, especially elder people with underlying health issues and compromised immune systems stay alive. Without them seniors with health challenges that contract the coronavirus face a near certain death sentence.

But there's a big problem. All across the nation hospitals can't afford them. That's because the cost of a single ventilator ranges anywhere from a low of $25,000 to $50,000 each. And that doesn't include the cost of training specialized medical personnel to use them. For hospitals with bloated bureaucracies this money pays for the upper professional crust of these bureaucracies. Investing in these machines is not a priority until now.

As the virus rages on and the U.S. health system plays catch up, and in spite of the rosy picture being painted by President Trump and company, the undisputed fact is that American hospitals have a total of 62,000 modern, state-of-the-art ventilators, and about 100,000 older, aging ones on hand that are still usable. So, what's the problem? Well, medical experts say that in this present situation, and all of the modeling suggest that before this virus is done with us, we'll need 900,000 ventilators. This challenge is compounded by the fact that manufacturers turn out only 50,000 ventilators a year.

Plus, the main reason ventilator manufacturers don't turn out more is because hospitals just don't have the money to buy them, or buy only a few to work with. That, and the fact that they did not foresee dealing with a pandemic, and thus a need for more ventilators was, for them, a very low priority. Enter the federal government who CAN pay for this equipment and who have been dragging it feet on this high-priced item, so far. Again, instead of putting people before first, its all about profit. Hospitals CAN and will transfer the cost of each ventilator to the patient but there's a limit as to how much they can drag out of their pockets.

The Democratic party's presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren have urged the Trump Administration to invoke laws that would order more ventilators. They want the federal to go on a "war footing" so as to speed up the manufacturing of these machines. Maybe this may work. We just do not know. But what we do know is that the US health care system produces mega-profits for corporations while leaving growing numbers of people without access to affordable, quality health care. The healthcare system is a business run by people only interested in making the most money for shareholders and investors. Today, the US is one of the only advanced capitalist countries without a system of universal health coverage. Tens of millions are uninsured, and many millions more pay for insurance that is either too limited in its coverage and scope or just too expensive to use. Even though Americans pay by far the highest price for health care, most people are denied that right by a cabal of greedy, profiteering, corporate-run medical industry, which treats care as a privileged commodity.

So, faced with disease, like the coronavirus, Americans are all potential victims of medical extortion while thousands lay sick and dying. The United States spends nearly one-fifth of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare, that's more than $3 trillion a year. To put this in context, this is equivalent to the entire economy of France. The paradigm is that for all this money the U.S. health system generally delivers worse health outcomes than any other developed country, all of which spend on average about half what Americans do per person for far better outcomes.

Back to the shortage of ventilators. People are going to die because there are not enough of them to go around, and the coronavirus now causing a pandemic puts more strain on hospital capacity. And yet the federal government seems wooden and clumsy in its responses, as if it just does not care. One more thing, the rich will get their ventilators they can pay for them and the rest of us? Ah. We'll just have to eat cake.

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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)

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