Check your wallet … you’re paying for this!

Insurance companies record profits, erectile dysfunction and lobbying

Some numbers to ponder, because you are paying for them:

A headline in today’s StarTribune: “UnitedHealth profit soars 155%.”

Advertising Age reports that 2009 spending by big pharma is $12.7 billion.

Industry spending to blunt health care reform is $1.4 million a day.

If you look at that empty spot in your wallet,  you’ll see where all that dough came from. Inflated costs for health care, health insurance and prescription drugs are lining the pockets of greedy executives, paying for the endless television commercials on erectile dysfunction and even funding the very campaign that will keep the gravy train running from your wallet to theirs.

UnitedHealth was in the news three years ago, when its CEO William McGuire was removed for backdating stock options and amassing $1.1 billion in stock options for himself, and a pension of $5.1 million a year. The man who replaced him had a starting salary of $15 million a year.

Marketing expenditures for big pharmaceutical companies dwarf their research budgets by a factor of 2 to 1. A friend from Europe, visiting earlier this summer, was laughing out loud at our American drug commercials with all the dreamy pictures and mood music as the warnings about hair loss, diarrhea and chest pains waft through in a tranquilizing voice. They don’t have such advertising in Europe (where the drug prices are presumably much lower) and wondered who in their right minds would take these prescriptions after hearing of all the side effects. In America, I explain, we’ve been so inundated with these ads that we get numbed to the disclosure of side effects.

The horrific amounts of money the industry is spending to water down or defeat the legislation reforming health care is paid for by your insurance premiums, too. The industry is being disingenuous, claiming to be open to reform but in reality only liking any reform that would require more healthy people to purchase their products, to increase their customer pools. They fear any public option – that is, a government run health plan – as it would be cheaper and force them to drop their prices in order to compete.

We believe in the free market as much as the next guy, and pursuit of the almighty dollar is appropriate when you’re selling tires, music, computers or fast food. However, we need to change how we think about health care. It should not be a “product” – it should be a fundamental right of being a citizen, as it is for nearly all other democratic nations.

America doesn’t always get it right the first time. There is nothing unpatriotic by admitting that. But we have another chance, with Obama’s leadership, of getting it right this time, and average joes and janes need to line up behind him as he faces down the health care profit machine.