The Covid 19 pandemic has laid bare systemic weaknesses in our nation’s healthcare system. It’s unclear, however, whether a serious review will ensue about the best way to address those weaknesses or, rather, if special interests will continue to game the system and further deprive Americans of the quality healthcare they deserve.
From sharply rising drug prices, to surprise billing, to the opioid crisis, corporate lobbyists have influenced policies and regulations to enhance their profits while undermining the health of our citizens.
Pharmaceutical sector lobbyists, which outnumber elected officials 5 to 1, have effectively prevented the government from negotiating drug prices. This has not only affected the affordability of prescriptions by individuals – costing some their lives – it has squeezed state government budgets through increased Medicare and Medicaid spending.
Doctor Patient Unity, composed of private equity-owned medical staffing companies, has spent $57 million on an ad campaign to block Congress’ attempts to control “surprise billing” (by balancing the interests of patients, doctors, and insurers regarding uncovered out-of-network charges).
The opioid crisis in Virginia and across the country is an example of lobbying’s capacity to thwart common sense, citizen-led advocacy for tighter restrictions on the sale of painkillers. From the late 1990s to 2017, over $740 million from pharmaceutical companies was spent to block federal and state initiatives to regulate opioid sales. Now under Covid 19 social distancing, there has been a surge in fatal opioid overdoses according to authorities nationwide.
No matter the specific outcome of a national discussion on repairing our broken healthcare system, placing reasonable limits on money in politics should be an urgent priority. To accomplish that, a constitutional amendment to override Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United is necessary.