Health care should be a public service, not a business plan, writes George Pyle
Decisions by Utah officials appear to be primarily aimed at adding up the stock price of a previously unknown company called Co-Diagnostics
This is an emergency. A public health crisis of the first order. People of all walks of life are at risk of a new and highly contagious virus that threatens to overwhelm our healthcare system, even if it kills thousands of us every day.
So how can we build on that?
That, in short, is the flaw in the way the United States in general, and Utah in particular, treat health care. Not as a public service as seen in civilized nations, but as a business opportunity.
Since about the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Salt Lake Tribune journalists have led the way when they stated that the Utah official’s response was clearly less about protecting public health than about opening up avenues for politically connected entrepreneurs find benefit from it.
The latest blow-by-blow is now on our website. It explains how decisions – made not by public health officials or health care providers, but by the state budget and the boosters of its high-tech sector – were mainly aimed at boosting the share price of a previously unknown company called Co-Diagnostics.
Co-Diagnostics was one of the companies that provided coronavirus testing in a trial called TestUtah, which was operated primarily by a Silicon Slopes company called Nomi Health. The entire company has largely faded, leaving the Co-Diagnostic CEO little more than a huge payday, a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation that may still be ongoing, and a few class action lawsuits seeking the company’s claims over its pandemic-related business the outlook was overly optimistic to say the least.
The mindset of everyone related to the state – with the exception of the Department of Health – appeared to be that only the best minds in the high-tech startup industry could potentially save us.
That it would be foolish – or at least no fun – to rely on these cumbersome state and local health agencies established for decades to deal with infectious diseases. Or turn to these two major nonprofit hospital systems – Intermountain Healthcare and University Health – that Utah leaders are usually so quick to brag about.
It wasn’t the then-Gov. Gary Herbert, now-Gov. Spencer Cox, then head of the Office of Management and Budget Kristen (no relationship with Spencer) Cox or anyone else wanted someone to get a failed test. It was just that she and others saw it all as a plan by Ralph Kramden / Cosmo Kramer to get rich quick that, on the side, could slow the spread of a deadly virus.
There are significant differences between health care providers, especially those who make drugs and devices that make a profit, and for-profit health care. The former is no worse than companies that make money selling jet fighters to the Air Force, patrol cars to law enforcement agencies, or glue and glitter to elementary schools. The latter is a completely wrong way of dealing with it.
The fact that profit is paramount for much of the healthcare industry is why we can’t have beautiful things like Medicare for All or even, as suggested by the Democratic Infrastructure Initiative, Medicare eligibility instead of ab 65, from 60. Including dental and visual aids.
The bean counters say this could cost more than $ 500 billion in 10 years. But that could be paid for by allowing Medicare to do what big private plans and the Veterans Administration are already doing – negotiating with big pharma to cut prescription drug costs.
Apart from the billions we would save in lost wages, disability claims and avoiding a lot of human suffering.
It helped that the US Supreme Court the other day, with a unilateral 7-2 vote, rejected the latest and likely final attempt by Republican incumbents (including, to his eternal shame, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes) to break the Affordable Care Act. This should be the Alliance’s last chance to kill Obamacare in court.
Healthcare should be seen as it should always have been. Not a right – like free speech and due process, but a public good – like fire departments and public schools, something no civilized nation would even think about.
The explosion of freedom that would follow would be phenomenal. People who are now tied to their job could start their own business, set up their own business or retire early. Companies burdened by healthcare costs could hire more employees or just pay better for those who have them. All of this would be of great help to sectors of the economy that are now struggling financially – including, say, newspapers.
Unhappy marriages could end without anyone losing access to health care. States and communities would be spared the cost of health care for the homeless and incarcerated.
But only if the government sees that it is their responsibility to ensure access to health care, and not their responsibility to make businesses more profitable.
George Pyle, Salt Lake Tribune opinion editor, has paid wage taxes to support Medicare for 43 years and is in the process of getting it all back.