Thursday, September 28, 2006

Wal-Mart Does What Congress Won’t

But then, of course, roles are reversed so maybe it’s not so strange. The world’s producers bow to Wal-Mart, while Congress bows to the world’s producers. An entirely different dynamic operates between beggars and choosers. Unfortunately, our Congress has beggared itself to the lobbyists in recent years and made a nice little business of being paid off.


But then, of course, roles are reversed so maybe it’s not so strange. The world’s producers bow to Wal-Mart, while Congress bows to the world’s producers. An entirely different dynamic operates between beggars and choosers. Unfortunately, our Congress has beggared itself to the lobbyists in recent years and made a nice little business of being paid off.

Walmart One could not have found a more crystal-clear example of what’s right with capitalism and wrong with Congress than the $4 prescription just introduced on over 300 prescription drugs at Wal-Mart.

We just can’t seem to get medical care right in this country, perhaps because we’re so flinchy about anything that smacks of socialism. State ownership of health care is a no-no, but state ownership of the schools is something we’re used to. How dumb is that?

State ownership of some things makes perfect sense. We agree to our government owning things such as the broadcast bands within which radio and TV operate, the National Parks, the oil and gas under coastal and federal lands, the Interstate highway system, the prisons and a bunch of things that don’t so readily come to mind. We dispense Social Security directly through the government.

What’s so special about health care?

What’s so special is that most all of the many bits and pieces that make up what we know as ‘health care’ have lobbyists busy in the halls of the Congress. Represented there are

  • Doctors
  • Hospitals
  • Lawyers to sue the doctors and hospitals
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Equipment suppliers
  • Labor unions
  • State and federal regulators, each standing guard over their turf
  • An extravaganza of insurance interests

SurgeryEach of these interests have in common that they paralyze Congress and mean not a damn to Wal-Mart.

The largest company in the world, the retailer we love to hate, is able to deliver (on a trial basis) prescriptions at or near $4 because they have huge market advantage. No one has a gun to the head of generic drug producers—they are simply unable to ignore (or coerce or lobby) the Wal-Mart market share.

One can only surmise what might happen to the cost of CAT-scan equipment, hospital beds, surgical gloves, nurses uniforms and window cleaning services if the same logic of market economics were applied. But of course they are not applied. Yet there is no potentially larger customer than the United States of America, should it decide to get into the health care business on a universal basis.

Doctors who have long fought ‘socialistic’ medical care because they feared a loss of control over charges for their services, have found themselves crippled instead by HMOs, Medicare and Medicaid. They got snookered instead by socialistic private industry. There’s little difference, except that in the so-called ‘private’ sector their malpractice insurance and record-keeping costs robbed their pockets in a less straightforward way.

Catscan Lawyers. Well, what can be said of lawyers except that they have made of us the most litigious society on the planet. We pay their outrages by a hidden ‘tax’ in all service sectors. A majority among our legislators, captains of K-Street lobby firms, they insinuate themselves into every aspect of American life.

Health Insurance Companies? Why do we or should we have them? Who finds value in an additional burdensome layer of bureaucracy? What added value comes from those who limit our choices to their profit, require a blizzard of paperwork and then work day and night to deny coverage under policies already written?

Wal-Mart has shown a light on the lie.  The lie is that National Health Care for all citizens is beyond our ability. It's simply not true.

Nothing stands between our need and rational health care policy except the personal financial interest of legislators. Those we elected are beholden to pharma and insurance companies, the continuing payoffs of lawyer groups and the frantic need in Washington for ever more money to fund election campaigns. Absolutely none of which is in our interests.

America is in health-care crisis. 45 million uninsured, another 60 million underinsured and costs rising at double the cost of living. We have the highest prescription rates in the industrialized world and yet the Congress blocks all access to low cost medicines. Medically speaking, the ship of state is way off course.

Wal-Mart didn’t need to turn the ship of state. They merely made an executive decision and the walls came a tumbling down.
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