Wealth inequality is corrupting our health care system

Over the last three decades, I’ve held multiple jobs in the health care industry, and have taken multiple health care and Affordable Care Act, ACA, classes. Besides my role running a startup medical device company, I’ve consulted for various health care startups and investors, and am married to a doctor who started and built a large medical practice that serves thousands of patients. Through education, hard work, saving and investing, we have become millionaires.

However, some in America’s health care system are earning millions a day and becoming billionaires by denying care to certain patients, increasing product prices beyond reason, and more.

Millions of Americans are priced out of private premiums and unable to get the drugs they need to prolong life. In health care policy, where the primary focus is supposed to be treating all of a country’s citizens cheaply and effectively, the United States is doing a terrible job. We need smarter regulation, and we need it fast.

Because we are allowing a few sectors in health care to run wild in pursuit of profit, price gouging and fraud is rampant. Some health care stakeholders are taking advantage of our system for their own benefit and at the expense of their fellow Americans across the political spectrum.

Most industrialized countries have acknowledged such inequalities in free markets, instilling regulations so consumers are not priced out of the market or taken advantage of when it comes to receiving health care and services. The US system, on the other hand, has allowed inequality of care to explode, and causes harm by denying access to many patients and ultimately, increasing costs for all of us.

This is because if everyone, including the least fortunate, were provided affordable, basic access to health care via a primary care doctor and the specialists they refer patients to, the quality of life of all Americans will be improved, and at a reasonable cost. Why?

Well, studies show that health and happiness are positively correlated, as is happiness and work productivity. What’s more, a country’s health performance and economic performance are “interlinked,” meaning investments in health systems to see a return in the economy are well placed. Right now, these investments in our health care system are overwhelmingly done by private actors who, to a fault, want their investment to see a return, even if that requires price gouging and unreasonable premiums.

With the right regulations, like removing for-profits from the industry, incentivizing the creation and maintenance of rural health centers, affordable premiums and accessible care, the health of this country will improve and the wealth disparities we see in our health care system will be mitigated substantially.

Now, none of this will be possible overnight, or easy at all. My wife and I know firsthand that there is a multitude of complexities and stakeholders in our country’s health care system: patients, medical and pharmaceutical industries, doctors, insurance companies, clinical trials, federal and state governments, the FDA, etc. Unfortunately, the main stakeholder, the patient, is often the biggest loser, while many insurance and other health care-related executives are making unprecedented profits. In order to ensure a fairer, more equitable system, where all patients have access and regulations help consumers, not investors, we must improve the ACA.

Instead of offering a solution to our broken system, President Trump mocks the ACA relentlessly. With total control of both chambers of Congress for two years, his party offered nothing concrete except repeal. Now that the House is in progressive control, it is time to force the hands of senators and Mr. Trump to improve our health care system for all, not just those who can afford it.

Despite all the good the ACA has done, in 2016 there were still 44 million uninsured Americans who were falling through the cracks, and 38 million more who had inadequate coverage. In fact, Medicare enrollment is down 11 percent compared to last year.

While there’s no guarantee a bill makes it out of the House or even receives a vote in the Senate, it’s still worth it for our Representatives to present something better than what we have now. A smart bill benefiting red and blue voters, rural and urban, will at least force the Senate to decide if keeping health care in the “free market” is what’s truly best for our country.