George Graham

For-Profit Health Care is a Sickening Idea. Why Do We Tolerate It?

When you think about it, the concept of “for-profit health care” is sickening. Corporations exist for one reason only: to make a profit for their shareholders. How can you reconcile that goal with society’s needs? Obviously, to meet their corporate goal, health care providers will give us the least amount of care possible for the most money they can get. That’s not a prescription for a healthy populace.

protestersThere was a time when hospitals were founded by religious organizations. They provided health care as one way of manifesting their devotion to God and compassion for their fellow-human beings. Some of these institutions still exist today, a surprising number of them in the United States. But it seems to me that the churches are changing. More and more, they are devoted to their own expansion and to the enrichment of the people running them. They look a lot like for-profit corporations, except that most of their operations are exempt from taxation in the United States.

There was a time, too, when medicine was regarded as a calling – like being a missionary. Idealistic young people endured the long, arduous years of study and the expense involved because they wanted to make a worthwhile contribution to society. But that, too, seems to have faded. Over the years, I have heard many doctors claim the right to make as much money as possible in a “free market.” They didn’t spend all those years in medical school and take out that huge student loan to have the government tell them how much money they can make. My response is that their contribution to their education is a small part of the total cost. Every aspect of their education is subsidized by taxpayers with the expectation that we will benefit from their skill eventually.

With the disappearance of idealism and the glorification of self enrichment in American society, we should not expect health care providers to act compassionately – or even responsibly. So it is no surprise – to me at any rate – that they are weaseling out of their pledge to reduce the growth in health care costs. Just four days after standing next to President Obama and declaring their commitment to control health care costs to the tune of $2 trillion over 10 years, the insurance industry, drug and medical device makers, and hospital groups are saying that President Obama “misunderstood” their offer.

“There’s been a lot of misunderstanding that has caused a lot of consternation among our members,” said Richard J. Umbdenstock, the president of the American Hospital Association. “I’ve spent the better part of the last three days trying to deal with it.”

The real misunderstanding is the President’s evident belief that he can trust health care industry representatives. Why do you think Americans spend more per capita on health care than any other nation in the world? And why do you think health care in America ranks far below other industrialized countries?

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studied health care in 19 countries in January and ranked America dead last.  Here are the survey results, from best to worst: France, Japan, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States.

And a study by the World Health Organization in the year 2000 ranked the United States 37th among 190 countries surveyed.

Obviously, the U.S. health care model is not working. Obviously, it is immoral as well as impractical. Obviously it has to be changed. And obviously, the health care industry is not going to cooperate in changing it.

Obviously, too, our elected representatives are playing footsie with the health care providers and insurers. Doctors, registered nurses and other activists are being handcuffed and taken to jail during Senate discussions for demanding consideration of a government-run single-payer system .

But too many Americans are sitting on their hands in this critical debate – no, make that battle – between the greedy profiteers and President Obama. If ever there was a time to protest, the time is now. We must send a message to Congress that we will not tolerate another sell-out – not when it’s our very survival that’s being sold.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for