Corruption in the Medical Industry: Pharmaceuticals & Rehab
We’re practically drowning in pills. Last year, over 4,000,000,000 prescriptions were filled in the United States. That’s 13 prescriptions for every US resident. 1 in 4 children in foster care are taking psychotropic medication. 1 in 13 children are currently being drugged. Even babies are being prescribed psychotropic meds. Americans consume 80% of the world’s painkillers and 52% of the global pharmaceutical market share. We make up only 4.4% of the world population!
As America grasps for air in a sea of competing pharmaceuticals, a sinister form of piracy maintains an aura of fear which keeps the population confined. The US spends $8,223 on healthcare per capita—more than any other nation—, yet we have only the 26th highest life expectancy in the world. There’s a clear discrepancy there; we are paying far too much for our medical treatment.
Not only are we being overly medicated, we are being erroneously overcharged. The routine visit to the doctor’s office costs only $38 in Chile, the nation with the second most expensive doctor’s visits. A visit costs an average of $95 in the US. Furthermore, the US leads the globe in the price of nearly every major medication, often even tripling or quadrupling the nearest competitors. This applies to even simple medical services like having a baby delivered or visiting the emergency room. The US has a lot of money, but that doesn’t disqualify the factors which drive families into poverty.
The profits made by drug firms and insurance agencies are skyrocketing to unprecedented levels. Medical bills are the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Three quarters of those who declare bankruptcy due to medical debt even had health insurance. But health insurance is becoming too expensive for many to even cover the deductibles. Historically, the cost of treating common illness has gone so high that even those with good credit scores and even better financial records are being forced to file bankruptcy. It doesn’t matter that America ‘has the most’ when we have to pay the most.
When 2,700,000 people lost their coverage in 2009, the health insurance sector posted gains of 56%! In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the industry finally began to post losses. There’s a good chance that won’t last. After the June Supreme Court decision in favor of the Affordable Care Act (colloquially, Obamacare), healthcare stocks saw a major surge. In an ironic twist, the Affordable Care Act has actually raised the average health insurance premium. Titles are deceiving; the cards are all being dealt into the industry’s favor.
Insurance and healthcare costs rise in direct opposition to financial trends. As wages decrease around the nation, healthcare turns even larger profits than ever before. Executives are stuffing their pockets with millions of dollars, while the companies feign excuses for spiking their rates. This isn’t even to mention the lowering quality of healthcare in the United States.
For instance, take a shooting victim. The cost of treating a shooting victim will easily reach into the tens of thousands, but can sometimes even cost millions. Individuals from lower income houses are more likely to fall victim to violent crime, which means that they are even less equipped to deal with the costs. Because the cost is too high, the remainder will often spill over to taxpayers, which causes a precipitating effect on the rest of society. (Note to Self: critics never seem to realize that the victims themselves ARE TAXPAYERS).
This may come as a surprise to some people, but the ‘addiction recovery industry’ is worth more than $35,000,000,000. Very little scientific data has actually supported the success rates of treatment centers and there isn’t any empirical data supporting the 12-Steps Program made popular by Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, AAC (American Addiction Centers; one of the largest rehab conglomerates in the nation) has been shown to intentionally utilize additional and unnecessary methods in order to increase revenue—namely drug testing, which costs the average patient $4,619 over the course of a month.
Alcoholics Anonymous seems to have even more scientific data going against it than supporting it. One study showed that people who attend Alcoholics Anonymous are actually 9 times more likely to binge drink than those who take a scientific cognitive psychology based approach. Even more startling, they were 5 times more likely to drink than those who received no treatment at all.
“This is drastically different than common treatment approaches which assume that problematic emotional states and behaviors are driven by a mysterious disease, environmental factors, brain chemistry, genes–and in the case of 12-step–a spiritual deficiency. On the contrary to [cognitive behavioral] approaches, 12-step based treatment teaches people that they are powerless to change themselves, and that only by the grace of god, with daily support and reliance upon treatment, 12 step meetings, and sponsors, can the troubled person hope to remain free of substance use. What’s more, they’re taught that outside factors known as “triggers” will cause them to use substances.”
Anonymous programs teach members that they are powerless over their own addictions. This can be useful for some, but it can also prove terribly dangerous for others. It’s a cornerstone of Anonymous philosophy that sobriety can only come through reliance on others—a higher power, sponsors, meetings, etc. Those things can be helpful, but there is no data (or even logic) which supports the claim that you have no control over your actions. It’s easy to see why people who are taught that “slipping up” will result in disaster will have much harder relapses than those who can overcome their trauma.
The problem with AA is that its system of rewards causes stronger falls. Handing out tokens and counting days can cause people to feel like they’ve lost everything that they have worked to achieve. The system teaches people to diminish themselves while buying into the belief that through a collective effort, sobriety can be reached. While this can be true for some, the truth is that the success rate of the program rests in the 5% range. According to the Atlantic:
“Nowhere in the field of medicine is treatment less grounded in modern science. A 2012 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University compared the current state of addiction medicine to general medicine in the early 1900s, when quacks worked alongside graduates of leading medical schools. The American Medical Association estimates that out of nearly 1 million doctors in the United States, only 582 identify themselves as addiction specialists. (The Columbia report notes that there may be additional doctors who have a subspecialty in addiction.) Most treatment providers carry the credential of addiction counselor or substance-abuse counselor, for which many states require little more than a high-school diploma or a GED. Many counselors are in recovery themselves. The report stated: “The vast majority of people in need of addiction treatment do not receive anything that approximates evidence-based care.”
The rehabilitation industry is speciously overcharging its patients on even less scientific data than the pharmaceutical industry. The cost of a month-long stay in a rehab center can range from $7,500 to more than $100,000. That’s not the only cost though. Urine tests can equate to a significant chunk of the cost as each individual test can cost as much as $3,000. Those who defend the price of rehab like to throw around the phrase, “the cost of getting better is less than the cost of addiction.” But this seems like a very high cost when you consider that as many 60% of rehab patients will relapse.
The overall corruption of the medical industry in America is well buried, but just about anywhere you dig, something will come up. Scientific data and safety are afterthoughts when money is on the line. We must take steps to actively protect ourselves against corruption. Sadly, times have changed and you can no longer take your doctor at face value. Before you get treated for any medical condition, it would be advisable to research both the treatment itself and the doctor administrating it.
There are risks to everything and manageable ones ought to be taken. Unfortunately, many of the risks which now assail us aren’t even helping us. We must take our health into our own hands and administer preventive measures to safeguard ourselves against corruption. There are practical tools that can help us to protect ourselves:
- Research the side effects of a treatment or medication.
- Know who is funding your doctor.
- Know how pharmaceutical companies market your drug.
- Be prepared for an emergency before it happens.
- Keep a written record of all medical documents in case of litigation or filing an insurance claim.
- Understand alternative and natural treatments.
The guiding principles of medicine are being forgotten. The doctor holds one of the noblest professions, but the power must not be misused. Most of us have heard of the Hippocratic Oath—the guiding philosophical doctrine of medicine. It’s time that we return to that standard or helping regardless of profit:
“I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.
I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.
I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.
Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.
What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.
If I fulfill this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honored with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.”