Walter Cronkite got it wrong. America’s health care system is both healthy and caring, and it’s a system that works beautifully – but it only benefits the wealthy and powerful medical barons who run it: the drug and insurance companies, the private medical companies who own the infrastructure and staff, and the huge (often international) pharmaceutical chains who dole out the drugs and accessories at enormous profit, that benefits them all.
During my thirteen years in the United States I received various medical treatments and required certain drugs. The one prescribed the most was Lansoprazole, a proton pump inhibitor for acid reflux. My doctor supplied a three-monthly prescription for this generic of Prevacid, which was filled at our local Walgreens store.
Every three months I would collect my prescription and pay the co-pay. It varied, but averaged around $35-$40. The explanation conveniently stapled to the package by Walgreens contained one piece of information I always took note of. It read: “Your insurance has saved you $xxx.”
The amount of ‘$xxx’ was never less than $350, and on one occasion came close to $500. In total, with the co-pay, this generic drug would have cost between $385 and $585. That’s a lot of money for ninety small capsules filled with a bit of white powder. The cost of one capsule, at its cheapest, was more than $4, and at its most expensive, $6.50. Thank you, insurance company, for paying so much of the cost for me. Surely, it was worth the $450 monthly fee we paid for coverage?
Or, was it?
Two factors would cross my mind each time I collected my prescription: how could anyone without medical insurance ever afford this drug, and, would a similar amount of cocaine be anymore expensive? Probably not.
Recently, I had reason to refill my Lansoprazole prescription in France, having moved there permanently. My French doctor supplied me with a similar three monthly prescription and I took it to our local pharmacy to be filled.
I was dreading the cost. In France I had no medical insurance. We had applied for the French Carte Vitale allowing us to use their public health system, but at that time had not received it. Consequently, my wife and I had to pay full price for drugs and medical treatment.
I proffered my prescription to the pharmacist with some trepidation. He gave me the ninety capsules and asked if I was a member of the health service. I told him: No. In that case, he said, I would have to pay in full for my prescription the sum of 25 euros and eighty centimes – the equivalent of $29.
The full retail price of this drug in France was substantially less than the co-pay demanded by our insurance company for the exact same drug in the United States.
To obtain this prescription I had to visit a French doctor. When I visited a doctor in the U.S. the fee was generally $120. The insurance paid 90%. I paid the remaining $20. A specialist was usually about double – $240.
Prior to leaving my doctor after obtaining my prescription, I asked how I should settle his account. He responded that, without French health insurance, I must pay him 23 euros ($26) cash. That was the amount he received for every consultation, which incidentally lasted for thirty-five minutes, not the fifteen allowed to me by U.S. health services.
French doctors have no imposed time limit on their consultations. They take as long as is necessary. Of course, this means that often there can be a long wait to be seen (we’ve waited up to an hour in the ‘salle d’attente’, even with an appointment) but assured with the knowledge the doctor will listen carefully to your problem, take time to make an assessment of your condition, and definitely not be hammering away at his/her computer keyboard while you’re describing your symptoms.
Here, it seems, is clear evidence that U.S. drug companies, in cahoots with U.S. insurance companies, are grossly inflating the price of their products. It also seems likely that national pharmaceutical chains, like Walgreens, are in on the deal.
Private medical companies now run most of the hospitals and doctor services in America. Patients are being squeezed more and more for that extra buck and doctors are under ever-increasing pressure, required to hear a patient’s symptoms, diagnose, and prescribe treatment, all while entering this information into the medical records database, and all within an imposed time limit of fifteen minutes, or less.
The American people are being ripped off by their health services and insurance companies. Somebody is making an enormous profit. It could even be considered racketeering.
Perhaps it’s time someone blew the whistle on America’s medical mafia.