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The Takeover of US Health Care by Big Money

We are being led by politicians beholden to bigmoney serving the greed of today’s medical-industrial complex.

Part of the Series

Donald Trump has blatantly disregarded his supposedly “populist” campaign and promises to “drain the swamp” of money in politics. He has shown himself as a self-promoter, con man and the most unpopular presidential candidate in modern political history. According to Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls, he was viewed positively by just 29 percent of voters in mid-October 2016, and only 41 percent in mid-December after the election.

Trump’s cabinet picks give us alarm that his administration will be deeply connected with Wall Street and big money. As of December 22, his 17 appointees have more wealth than the bottom 43 million American households combined, according to the End Citizens United Action Network. Examples include Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, who is a former chairman of the far-right media group Breitbart and Goldman Sachs veteran; and Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, previously second-in-command at Goldman Sachs. Four of his picks are billionaires, while most have donated millions to his campaign and helped to finance super PACs on his behalf.

Trump’s political appointees further show how unlikely it is that any swamp will be drained — instead, we can expect quite the opposite, and that doesn’t bode well for health care. Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia), an orthopedic surgeon and incoming appointee to head the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), has long called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), privatization of Medicare, sharp cuts in Medicaid funding and defunding Planned Parenthood. He has claimed that every woman in the country has access to affordable contraception. Over the last two years, he has traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies while sponsoring and advocating legislation that could affect those companies’ stocks, a possible violation of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge

In his new role, he will have oversight of Medicare, Medicaid, the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the NIH. Andrew Puzder, Trump’s pick for secretary of labor, CEO of the parent company of fast-food chains, lobbyist and top Trump campaign donor, has tried for years to overturn Roe v. Wade.Billionaire investor Carl Icahn is expected to be named special adviser to the president on overhauling federal regulations.

All this shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the long history of big money influencing health care and policy. Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a leading voice of conscience, brings us this historical perspective:

Beginning in the 1970s, partly because of the economic crisis that erupted in the early years of that decade and the decline in the rate of profit, but also because of the view that democracy had become too widespread, an enormous, concentrated, coordinate business offensive was begun to try to beat back the egalitarian efforts of the post-war era, which only intensified as time went on. The economy shifted itself to financialization. Financial institutions expanded enormously. By 2007, right before the crash for which they had considerable responsibility, financial institutions accounted for a stunning 40 percent of corporate profit. A vicious cycle between concentrated capital and politics accelerated, while increasingly wealth concentrated in the financial sector. Politicians, faced with the increasing costs of campaigns, were driven ever deeper into the pockets of wealthy backers. And politicians rewarded them by pushing policies favorable to Wall Street and other powerful business interests. Throughout this period, we have a renewed form of class warfare directed by the business class against the working people and the poor, along with a conscious attempt to roll back the gains of the previous decades.

In the run-up in 2008 and 2009 to the passage of the ACA in 2010, the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University estimated that there were about 168 influence peddlers, most representing big corporate stakeholders, for every member of Congress. As Bill Allison, senior fellow at the Sunshine Foundation, said at the time about the ACA, “When you have a big piece of legislation like this, it’s like ringing the dinner bell for K Street … There’s a lot of money at stake and there are a lot of special interests who don’t want their ox gored.”

In a recent blog, I described the problems involved in whatever the Republicans do about healthcare in the early days and weeks of the incoming Trump administration. Whatever they do, today’s government run by billionaires poses an increasingly dire threat to the health care of ordinary Americans. Health care is still being viewed as a largely for-profit enterprise oriented towards financial returns to corporate stakeholders, not the needs and best interests of patients and families. The stock market is surging as Wall Street learns more about how president-elect Trump is likely to govern. According to the Tax Policy Center, more than one half of Trump’s tax cuts will be to the richest 1% of the population, with the richest 0.1% receiving tax cuts averaging almost $1.5 million per year.

Ignored by the current debate and the mainstream corporate media, what should be standing in plain sight is a more efficient and affordable system for universal coverage in the public interest — single-payer national health insurance. Instead, we are being led by politicians beholden to big money serving the greed of today’s medical-industrial complex. Ironically, almost two-thirds of national health care spending is already financed by taxpayers, much more than what would be needed to provide full coverage for all necessary care for all Americans. Whatever comes next in this new Republican administration — whether the ACA (with or without modification) or a more fully privatized GOP “system” — many millions of Americans will have little or no access to affordable health care. We should be able to do better in this “democratic” society, as other advanced industrial countries around the world have done for many years.