Because adequate access to medicine is vital to every part of the population, and because the healthcare industry has such great profit potential, it has become an active source of corruption in the US.
There’s simply so much money involved in satisfying the growing demand for healthcare that corruption has settled into the system and grown like a weed. Executives in health care firms have long recognized and acted on the reality that fifty million dollars spent on lobbying politicians can bring them a far greater profit than a billion dollars spent on research or product development or serving patients. As the Economist pointed out in May 2013, “[t]he health industry is among the five most generous sources for campaign donations to John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress.” [The Economist, 5/11/13, “Economic Growth: The Health Paradox”]
The corruption in the healthcare system has had a huge negative impact on the actual administration of healthcare, but it takes many forms – lawyers suing for malpractice over minor things; hospitals and doctors responding by over-testing; the whole industry overcharging for every service, drug, or piece of medical hardware; big pharmaceutical companies routinely bribing doctors, researchers, and politicians to increase their market share and oversell their drugs; huge “non-profit” hospital chains making enormous profits and paying no taxes; laws that heavily favor the industry getting passed because of lobbying and legalized bribery. And, because of all of this, patients are routinely harmed, overcharged, or denied services.
America’s healthcare system is dysfunctional, in many ways, and corruption is to blame for a lot of that dysfunction. This link is phenomenally complex, though, because the corruption takes so many forms, and impacts a wide variety of sub-industries in different ways. This isn’t something that can be solved with a single stroke of the president’s pen; it’s a complex knot, with many vested interests that have a stake in maintaining the status quo. The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) will add even more layers to the regulation, and provide more avenues for corruption – although, with luck, it might actually help some Americans, too.