The problem with attacking for-profit health care...especially for Bernie

Bernie Sanders has been running advertisements about "patients before profits," blaming deaths in America on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry.  I could understand that belief if he grew up in a small town outside Havana where the government controlled every aspect of his information and all innovation had been frozen on the day of the revolution, but he can't make that claim.  Sadly, the spectacular ignorance underlying the belief is a common problem. 

Let's start to dispel the notion that profit-seeking is a problem by pointing out some current events.  The coronavirus that is causing global panic and bringing superpowers to their knees seems to be the most pressing concern of the day.  According to an article in statnews.com, there are nine treatments and vaccines of note to tackle the global pandemic.  All of them are being developed by for-profit companies.  None of the governments, universities, or NGOs is near development.  Can Bernie explain why it is that Gilead and eight other for-profit companies are closer to helping the world than the NIH, the NHS, the Canadian health care system, Denmark, China, the E.U., or any university?  What happens when his policies eliminate those for-profits?

At least his ignorance about how profit benefits patients has been consistent.  An article penned by Bernie in 1969, "Cancer, Disease, and Society," describes how cancer is brought on by psychological distress caused by "angry b---- teachers" who won't let children disrupt class, sexually repressive mothers who don't let their teenage daughters have sex, and forcing children to go to school...among other cancer-inducing stressors.  In that article, he goes on to berate those who think cancer can be resolved by money and "a handful of specialists."  Perhaps he has missed the good news of the past 30 years, during which a for-profit company called Merck financed the research of a specialist named Dr. Frazer to create an HPV vaccine that prevents most cervical cancer in young women, caused in part by the promiscuity he said would provide the cure.  Thousands of breast cancer survivors can thank the specialists Dr. Ullrich and Dr. Shepard and the for-profit company Genentech for Herceptin, a safe and highly effective antibody to prevent reoccurrence of breast cancer in women — undoubtedly brought on by years of sexual repression and having to listen to those "angry b----" teachers.  Will Bernie apologize to the millions of women who would have died had we eliminated for-profit health care in 1969?

Not only are for-profit medical innovations silently protecting the thousands of young women and men you see in Bernie's rallies, but they are also responsible for keeping him in the presidential campaign.  Without billions of dollars invested by for-profit medical technology companies competing in the cardiovascular space, his voice would currently be barely audible as he wheezed through the pain of recovering from a chest plate that has been sawn in half and ribs bent back to allow bypass tubes to be tied onto his clogged coronary arteries.  Instead, he is loudly bellowing out his disdain for the medical industry with spectacularly advanced miniature cages propping up his coronary arteries from within.  When death came knocking at his door, specialists used advanced imaging devices created by for-profit medical imaging companies (e.g., GE Healthcare, Phillips, Siemens) to guide wires with balloons and cages into his heart to reverse the heart attack.  The "cage" was probably a second-generation drug eluting stent created by one of our for-profit medical technology companies (e.g., Medtronic, Boston Scientific, Abbott), after dozens of iterations and billions of dollars of investment.  Bernie was probably able to resume the incredible rigor of the campaign trail in a matter of 1–2 days rather than suffering 6 or more weeks of painful rehabilitation.  None of the devices keeping Bernie alive and healthy would have been possible without a profit motive driving investment and innovation.

Profit-seeking companies have cured cancer, reversed heart disease, and created every other advance you can name for the past 100 years of medicine.  A tiny fraction of innovation comes out of the NIH or non-profit society grants — and those discoveries would invariably sit on the shelf without the work and investment of profit-seeking venture capitalists and companies guiding the idea through clinical trials, regulatory hurdles, and production.  The majority of the profits that provide the incentive for innovators worldwide come from the U.S., and other health care systems piggyback (and rip off) our system to take advantage of the innovation that we provide.  In short, the U.S. market and the for-profit health care industry that serves it is the world's golden goose for global medical innovations…so please, Bernie, put patients before socialism and stop attacking profits.

Image: AFGE via Flickr.

Bernie Sanders has been running advertisements about "patients before profits," blaming deaths in America on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry.  I could understand that belief if he grew up in a small town outside Havana where the government controlled every aspect of his information and all innovation had been frozen on the day of the revolution, but he can't make that claim.  Sadly, the spectacular ignorance underlying the belief is a common problem. 

Let's start to dispel the notion that profit-seeking is a problem by pointing out some current events.  The coronavirus that is causing global panic and bringing superpowers to their knees seems to be the most pressing concern of the day.  According to an article in statnews.com, there are nine treatments and vaccines of note to tackle the global pandemic.  All of them are being developed by for-profit companies.  None of the governments, universities, or NGOs is near development.  Can Bernie explain why it is that Gilead and eight other for-profit companies are closer to helping the world than the NIH, the NHS, the Canadian health care system, Denmark, China, the E.U., or any university?  What happens when his policies eliminate those for-profits?

At least his ignorance about how profit benefits patients has been consistent.  An article penned by Bernie in 1969, "Cancer, Disease, and Society," describes how cancer is brought on by psychological distress caused by "angry b---- teachers" who won't let children disrupt class, sexually repressive mothers who don't let their teenage daughters have sex, and forcing children to go to school...among other cancer-inducing stressors.  In that article, he goes on to berate those who think cancer can be resolved by money and "a handful of specialists."  Perhaps he has missed the good news of the past 30 years, during which a for-profit company called Merck financed the research of a specialist named Dr. Frazer to create an HPV vaccine that prevents most cervical cancer in young women, caused in part by the promiscuity he said would provide the cure.  Thousands of breast cancer survivors can thank the specialists Dr. Ullrich and Dr. Shepard and the for-profit company Genentech for Herceptin, a safe and highly effective antibody to prevent reoccurrence of breast cancer in women — undoubtedly brought on by years of sexual repression and having to listen to those "angry b----" teachers.  Will Bernie apologize to the millions of women who would have died had we eliminated for-profit health care in 1969?

Not only are for-profit medical innovations silently protecting the thousands of young women and men you see in Bernie's rallies, but they are also responsible for keeping him in the presidential campaign.  Without billions of dollars invested by for-profit medical technology companies competing in the cardiovascular space, his voice would currently be barely audible as he wheezed through the pain of recovering from a chest plate that has been sawn in half and ribs bent back to allow bypass tubes to be tied onto his clogged coronary arteries.  Instead, he is loudly bellowing out his disdain for the medical industry with spectacularly advanced miniature cages propping up his coronary arteries from within.  When death came knocking at his door, specialists used advanced imaging devices created by for-profit medical imaging companies (e.g., GE Healthcare, Phillips, Siemens) to guide wires with balloons and cages into his heart to reverse the heart attack.  The "cage" was probably a second-generation drug eluting stent created by one of our for-profit medical technology companies (e.g., Medtronic, Boston Scientific, Abbott), after dozens of iterations and billions of dollars of investment.  Bernie was probably able to resume the incredible rigor of the campaign trail in a matter of 1–2 days rather than suffering 6 or more weeks of painful rehabilitation.  None of the devices keeping Bernie alive and healthy would have been possible without a profit motive driving investment and innovation.

Profit-seeking companies have cured cancer, reversed heart disease, and created every other advance you can name for the past 100 years of medicine.  A tiny fraction of innovation comes out of the NIH or non-profit society grants — and those discoveries would invariably sit on the shelf without the work and investment of profit-seeking venture capitalists and companies guiding the idea through clinical trials, regulatory hurdles, and production.  The majority of the profits that provide the incentive for innovators worldwide come from the U.S., and other health care systems piggyback (and rip off) our system to take advantage of the innovation that we provide.  In short, the U.S. market and the for-profit health care industry that serves it is the world's golden goose for global medical innovations…so please, Bernie, put patients before socialism and stop attacking profits.

Image: AFGE via Flickr.