Healthy California Now president Michael Lighty wrote an article for The Nation asking why is universal health care seen as prohibitively expensive when the status quo costs far more:
Under the current system, health care in California will cost an estimated $517 billion in 2022. Many articles have quoted the California Republican party’s objection that AB 1400 would cost $400 billion annually. Given the alternative, that sounds like a deal!
Consider the industry’s ability to set the health policy agenda. Counting lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions, the health care sector spends more on influencing lawmakers than any other industry. A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that between 1999 and 2018 “the pharmaceutical and health product industry spent $4.7 billion, an average of $233 million per year, on lobbying the US federal government; $414 million on contributions to presidential and congressional electoral candidates, national party committees, and outside spending groups; and $877 million on contributions to state candidates and committees.”
Where does all this money come from? It comes from us. It comes from the premiums that workers pay—and the premiums that businesses pay (a common reason cited for withholding wage increases). It comes from the out-of-pocket expenses we pay for prescription drugs, hospitals, and doctors. Our own money goes toward preventing the negotiation of prescription drug prices, or opposing any effort to limit what hospitals, insurance companies, and doctors can charge us.
Our money also goes toward high executive salaries, mergers and acquisitions, and shareholder income. So much so that in the past few years, Wall Street investors have vastly expanded their ownership of health care corporations.
The profits of the biggest health care corporations are obscene: Kaiser Permanente had a net income of $8.1 billion in 2021, a record. The same year, HCA, the largest for-profit hospital corporation, booked $7 billion in profits, while United Health, the largest commercial insurer, reported profits of $17.3 billion. Perhaps because of reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic, the greed of the prescription drug companies is better known: Pfizer and Moderna’s combined sales revenues from Covid vaccines are projected to be $60 billion for 2021 and 2022. Lily, a big diabetes drug supplier, had profits of $22.776 billion in 2021, an increase of 14.6 percent over the previous year. Meanwhile, patients die for lack of insulin, and Congress has so far failed to limit the price of this decades-old drug (as it has failed to limit the price of any prescription drug, which single-payer will do).