Fredrickson: The U.S. healthcare system could shift at the hand of big corporations

Michelle Fredrickson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

This week, three major companies – Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway – announced they were breaking into the realm of healthcare to circumvent the problems in the United States industry, and would form their own healthcare organization for their employees.

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This is a pretty huge announcement, and it had some large ramifications; stock prices of major healthcare companies dropped overnight. Amazon prides itself on being a ‘disrupter’ of industry, and analysts have been suspecting they would break into healthcare sooner or later.

Amazon’s reputation as a disrupter of industry could be a real boon here, because this new partnership will shake up an industry that desperately needs disrupting.

At CSU, all students are required to have health insurance. Having health insurance is a basic necessity in America, because without health insurance access to healthcare becomes so expensive it is, for all intents and purposes, impossible. Students can either find their own insurance or purchase CSU health insurance, which costs around $1500 a semester. No matter what, it’s a large extra cost on a group of students who are already buried in costs.

It’s important for students to pay attention to what’s happening to shake up American healthcare, because it could very directly affect us soon.

It’s difficult to say if what these three companies create will be bad or good, because there really isn’t any available information on it yet. The New York Times reported that the companies released the news before the concrete plans were finalized in order to hire experts to help streamline the process.

Because of this, it’s not possible to measure whether the partnership will be good for public health yet. They have hinted they plan to run their healthcare initiative as a non-profit, and to make it available for others beyond their own employees. The three companies together employ more than a million people.

The partners formed this new initiative in response to the constantly-rising healthcare costs in the United States. While other costs – costs of living, transit, food – by and large remained the same, healthcare prices continued to rise. This is a huge problem in American healthcare. The Affordable Care Act took some steps toward fixing it, but many of the cost-reduction measures have since been repealed, leaving healthcare as expensive now as it’s ever been.

A few years ago when I had my appendix removed my family was mistakenly sent a bill that sent us into a panic. A small, non-invasive, laproscopic surgery cost $15,000. Now, my insurance did cover this, and billing my family was in error, but seeing a number like that on a bill was enough to really drive home how much healthcare can cost, and why some people would avoid ever seeking care.

Accessing healthcare in the United States is astronomically more expensive than in any other developed county. Everything about it is more expensive – hospital stays, emergency room visits, doctor’s appointments. Even medical school is much more expensive here than anywhere else in the world. And at the root of it all is our for-profit health system.

American healthcare is growing increasingly more expensive, and it is becoming a problem the nation must address. | Courtesy of Consumer Reports

In most other countries with cheaper, easier-to-access healthcare systems, prices are controlled by the government and the for-profit industry’s role is limited. In the United States, the insurance companies control a great deal of the healthcare industry and run on a profit model.

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Additionally, not operating on a single-payer system means the overhead costs are much larger, contributing to the astronomical prices.

The benefits to the expensive system are a short waiting period for care and quick access to new treatments. It’s why rich and affluent people will come here for medical care. Because the industry is so expensive, the rich people with the best insurance plans get to access top-of-the-line care.

But it’s not really a fair system. Many people advocate for single-payer systems, which is government-run universal healthcare. These systems have huge advantages – everyone gets access, the costs are less likely to be so destructive – but they may come with certain sacrifices the affluent in the community may not be willing to make.

Healthcare, as anyone who has read anything about the issue has always known, is an incredibly complex issue, and it’s clear that our healthcare system needs some reshaping.

Amazon’s entrance to this stage has shaken up the notion that there are only two options. It’s not clear what they will do next, but everyone – especially students, who should always be on the lookout for cost-saving measures – should keep their eye on this new coalition. It is shaking up an industry that desperately needs a kick in its complacency.

Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @mfredrickson42