The Conundrum of for Profit Healthcare

By: Woodrow Odom Lucas

There was a point in my life when I thought that capitalism was the source of all of the pain in the world.  I would castigate family members as greedy hoarders of wealth.  I would quote pro socialist and pro-communist literature.  I would tout appropriate bible verses such as Paul’s avowal that “The Love of Money is the root of all evil”.  But as I have aged, I have very much softened on the idea of Capitalism and its ills.  And really now believe  that some hybrid economic system which blends the ambition of for profit creativity with a social welfare state that tends to individuals who have more difficulty thriving in free market enclaves .


However, when it comes to Healthcare, I often feel the “pro Fidel Castro” side of my personality vying for dominance over my greater moderation.  So tonight I thought that I would explore with you, just what my misgivings are surrounding what I term, “The For Profit Healthcare Imperative.”  As I journey through and out of severe and persistent mental illness many of my favorite providers charge me for their services.  And I have no problem with them charging me for their services as I believe they do impeccable work and deserve to be remunerated for that work.  Similarly, I have no problem with people getting rich, and hope to one day be one of them.  It doesn’t cause me any pangs of anger or outrage when I see Louis Hay a billionaire, or Joel Osteen as a multimillionaire.  I believe that these people of faith and healing are popular because their messages create joy and healing, and that popularity makes them rich through the sale of books and the preponderance of speaking engagements that they receive.


But I think that something is devastatingly wrong when hospitals intentionally keep people sick, just so they can have a higher census.  I think something is radically awry, when pharmaceutical companies create subpar products which will not alleviate symptoms as much as others they have tested because of the higher profits they will yield with the less helpful meds.  I just spent 2 years working in for profit healthcare, and while the people were very nice, it often felt like we were selling cars instead of trying to bring people to a state of health and wellness.  I think that really is one of the big misnomers about for profit healthcare; this idea that you can run a healthcare company in the same way that you run a real estate firm or an antique business when PEOPLE’S LIVES AND QUALITY OF LIFE ARE AT STAKE.


If you run a health care company and you do not prioritize people’s health and wellness over your profit margin, you will invariably end up sacrificing people’s wellbeing for your bottom line.  But the really unfortunate irony of for profit healthcare, is that if you do as you ought and prioritize people’s health and wellness over your profit margin, you will very likely go out of business.  And so now we see that “The For Profit Imperative” in healthcare creates a system of winners who are providing subpar care to patients and clients and losers who are providing excellent care but who can compete with those who are doing unethical things for the sake of profit.


EF Shumaker wrote a book entitled “Small is Beautiful.”  Perhaps the problem in the “For Profit Imperative” scenario is the same as the problem in de facto free market competition.  When unregulated entities become too large, they begin to dominate the industry often with problematic business practices, whereas smaller more excellence driven providers are too small to generate the kinds of economies of scale to stay competitive.


So what’s my solution?  Well one solution may be to force all healthcare initiatives to operate as 501-C3’s consequently negating the kind of wall street graft that can enter in when they become a publicly traded company and also keeping operating profit as a priority that is clearly below successful healing and health and wellness.  And so here is my take home.  Healthcare is a vastly different industry than real estate, or automobiles, or utilities because people’s suffering and recovery from that suffering is sacred and should always be prioritized above any sort of fiscal bottom line.  And a free market economy that rewards company’s for prioritizing health and wellness over profit will be a free market society of healthy people, but a free market economy that rewards prioritizing profit over health and wellness will be a society with a quality of life index similar to a 3rd world nation, which is exactly the scenario in the United States.


Namaste and God Bless!! Woody

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