In the Washington Post, Senior Researcher Ron Knox and co-author Andrea Flynn explain how monopoly power is impacting Americans’ access to health care, particular hospitals’ ability to fight the COVID-19 crisis.
The United States is on the brink of a hospital capacity crisis. It has fewer than 1 million hospital beds nationally, far below the predictions of what will be needed to treat those who become seriously ill from the novel coronavirus outbreak. There are many reasons the U.S. health-care system is so ill-equipped to handle a crisis of this magnitude. One of them is the decades-long trend of hospital mergers and closures that have reduced access to care in communities across the nation.
The authors argue that the FTC must more effectively review proposed hospital mergers.
The challenge for policymakers is to meet these short-term needs while also ensuring that the country never again finds itself with more sick and dying patients than our hospitals can treat. As we emerge from the present, the FTC must take hospital mergers more seriously, reviewing proposals carefully while prioritizing patients and the stability of our health-care system as a whole.
Knox and Flynn also argue for a broader vision of American health care, one that treats medical care as a public good that serves us both in times of crisis and our everyday lives.
A broader lesson we should take from this moment is that public health is — as most other countries in the world believe — a public good, and public goods require broad public investments. Hospitals should not be about corporate-style efficiencies in which they must operate at near-full capacity to satisfy investors. Rather, hospitals should be able to exist while ensuring that they have the capacity required to care for their communities should the worst occur. This crisis makes that clear.
Now is the time to deeply invest in rural communities — in hospitals, in practitioners, in public coverage options such as Medicaid and Medicare — and to do so in a way that will address the immediate crisis and establish a strong public-health foundation for the future. Corporate profits have no place in public health decision-making; when they do, we all suffer greatly. We deserve, and must demand, so much better.
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