Pill Pushing: The Cancer of the Healthcare System
The sorry state of our health care system is something most people today recognize. However, it can be difficult to see the fundamental flaws through the veil established through the haze of politics. We must realize that the core issues are much bigger than left versus right. The dire consequences of this system can be seen in many areas. At 15% of our GDP, we spend more on healthcare than any other country, yet we have the lowest life expectancy rate and one of the highest infant mortality rates out of the 12 most developed nations (Abramson 85). Today, we have a health care industry that profits more when people are sick than when they are healthy. The business model of the industry doesn’t focus on finding new cures and healing, but on creating paying customers.
The pharmaceutical industry’s scope of power is huge. Their influence stretches into many different areas. One of the fundamental problems is their influence on our government. Big Pharma spends more on lobbying our leaders than any other industry except one. From 1997 to 2000, the industry spent $734M lobbying Congress and the executive branch (Barlett 69). They also contribute massive amounts of money to various political campaigns. As a matter of fact, in the last fifteen years, they donated more to political campaigns than commercial banks, energy, and big tobacco (69). To make matters worse, the American Medical Association uses many of the same lobbyists as the pharmaceutical companies. “According to the Lobbying Disclosure Act database, one of the American Medical Associations' top lobbying firms, the McManus Group, also lobbies for PhRMA, Eli Lilly & Company, Merck, and Pfizer” ("The AMA's Lobbyists & Political Contributions" 1).
However, the political manipulation on behalf of the major drug companies goes much further than corporate lobbying and campaign donations. For example, take a look at the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement Act of 2008. The act was the first ever medicare prescription drug benefit, giving over half a trillion dollars in tax payer subsidies to the big pharmaceutical companies. The act also blocked all imports of low-cost drugs from Canada, which was a top priority for our domestic pharmaceutical companies. The man responsible for the bill was Thomas Scully, the president of the federal centers for medicare and medicaid services. Before that position, he was the president of the Federation of American Hospitals, a trade association of for-profit hospitals, which depended heavily on federal tax dollars despite its “dedication to a market-driven philosophy” (Barlett 70). The act Scully crafted threw billions of tax dollars at private corporations to fein the functionality of the market system. What makes the situation especially sickening is that during the process of passing the act, Scully was in the middle of working out a private negotiation to go back to work for the very same industry that was benefiting from the bill he was overseeing (70).
To maximize their profits, the major drug companies go beyond politics, stretching their reign of influence into the education of our doctors. The pharmaceutical industry supports half of the cost of continuing medical education (CME) in the US (Brody 451). And for the producers of these drugs, that investment definitely pays off. “It has been estimated that for every $1.00 the industry invests in CME or similar meetings, it reaps $3.56 in increased sales” (454). The Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) is responsible for deciding which programs doctors can receive CME credit hours from. In an attempt to prevent corporate influence and bias, the ACCME has strict set of guidelines that it holds its members to. They try to accomplish this “by requiring the disclosure of the commercial ties of any speakers, and the independence of the group that selects the topics and content for the...
Cited: Abramson, John. Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine. NY: HarperCollins, 2004. Print. This book provides many examples that show how the pharmaceutical industry has misled doctors and the general public in an attempt to sell more drugs.
Barlett, Donald L., and B. Steele. James. Critical Condition: How Health Care in America Became Big Business. New York: Random House Large Print, 2004. Print. This book includes the statistics used to show the vast amount of money the industry spends on lobbying.
Bekelman JE, Li Y, Gross CP. “Scope and Impact of Financial Conflicts of Interest in Biomedical Research: A Systematic Review”. JAMA (2003): 454–465. Journal of the American Medical Association. American Medical Association, 22 Jan. 2003. Web. This article shows that a research trial sponsored by the industry is more than 3.6 times more likely than a neutral trial to reach conclusions favorable to sales of the drug.
Brody, Howard. "Pharmaceutical Industry Financial Support for Medical Education: Benefit, or Undue Influence?" Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics (2009): 451-60. Print. This article outlines our modern system of continuing medical education and provides evidence highlighting the core problems with drug industry funded CME programs.
Campbell, E. G., R. L. Gruen, J. Mountford, L. G. Miller, P. D. Cleary, and D. Blumenthal. "A National Survey of Physician-Industry Relationships." New England Journal of Medicine 356.17 (2007): 1742-750. New England Journal of Medicine. Massachusetts Medical Society, 26 Apr. 2007. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. This survey provides the evidence used to outline the financial relationship between the industry and the physician.
Sade, Robert M. "Dangerous Liaisons? Industry Relations with Health Professionals." The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 37.3 (2009): 398-400. Print. This article is used to show the ill effects of industry influence on patient care. It gives evidence exposing industry control in trial design, data analysis, and publication.
"The AMA 's Lobbyists & Political Contributions." Political Correction. Media Matters Action Network, 11 June 2009. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. This website outlines political campaign donations and shows how the American Medical Association use the same lobbyists as the big pharmaceutical companies.
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