Corporate Behavior and Rising Health Care Costs

As the dust settles from the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), one of my LinkedIn groups got into a debate about what it all means and what needs to happen next. I got such a positive reaction from one of my comments that I thought I’d share it here, followed by details of the documentary I mentioned.

My Comment

The aging population adds significantly to healthcare costs, but that’s a global problem and not specific to the US, so what is it about our nation that makes our healthcare system the most expensive in the world by far and without the positive outcomes to justify it?

As a consumer advocate, I believe our problems are rooted in our politics and societal beliefs and find it quite telling that, according to the HBO documentary “The Weight of the Nation,” public health officials can accurately gauge one’s average weight and BMI by zip code. It’s also telling that longevity in poor neighborhoods can be over 20 YEARS LESS than in affluent neighborhoods on the other side of the same town. Watch the video and see the stats at http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2012/06/americas-obesity-epidemic-a-big-problem-updated/.

I especially feel for children born into poor families or the “new poor” that were once middle-class families, but where the parents lost their job and/or home at no fault of their own, got hit with a health emergency, and have since burned through any retirement and capital investments they once had. Poor families often have:

  • Less access to healthcare, even from pre-birth,
  • Less access to affordable and nutritious foods,
  • Less exercise opportunity, with fewer places to safely play,
  • Inferior public schools (college seems out-of-reach),
  • Fewer job opportunities, and
  • Less say in government.

To understand just how wide the income and wealth gap has become, and the implications for healthcare, see the video infographic in Wealth Inequality, Healthcare and the Economy.

Even in healthcare, free-market capitalism is no longer played on a level playing field because, unfortunately, many large corporations have used their investments in lawyers and paid lobbyists to gain political influence and craft laws in their favor. Our high court even allows them to effectively “buy” elections with unlimited funds directed in secret to political action committees, and it continues to grant corporations personhood.

But if healthcare corporations and insurance companies are persons, what sort of persons are they? As presented in “The Corporation,” an award-winning Canadian documentary that you can watch on YouTube, the operational principles of a corporation give it a highly anti-social “personality.” Corporations answer to shareholders and are inherently self-interested (profit-driven), amoral, callous and deceitful. They breach social and legal standards to get their way. They don’t suffer from guilt, yet can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. In short, the modern corporation is a psychopath and in need of regulation and reform. But they are using their political clout to avoid that.

What sort of society have we become, and do we even want to restore the American Dream, or is that too reserved for the privileged?

 


 

The Corporation, a Canadian documentary

The Corporation is a complex and sobering yet darkly amusing video documentary that takes its audience on a graphic and engaging quest to reveal the corporation’s inner workings, curious history, controversial impacts and possible futures. Based on Bakan’s best-selling book, ”The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power,” the film has achieved box office success, has won 28 awards from prestigious festivals around the world, and stands as the top-grossing Canadian feature documentary of all time.

The Corporation includes encounters and interviews with CEOs and top-level executives from a range of industries: energy, pharmaceutical, computer, tire, carpet, sporting goods, public relations, branding, news, advertising, and undercover marketing, as well as a Nobel-prize winning economist, a corporate spy, and a range of academics, critics, historians and thinkers.

The Corporation helps us understand why we can’t just trust “market forces” to control behavior and must instead restore the checks and balances of regulatory oversight, even establishing criminal penalties in some cases.

The Corporation helps explain why so many U.S. corporations behaved badly and contributed to the global financial crisis. Apparently some corporate officers even forgot the ethics lessons they learned in kindergarten. They obviously believe in privatizing profits and socializing losses, because they adopted the same self-serving and psychopathic behavior of the corporation itself, putting both stockholders and society at risk for personal gain.

You can order the 2-DVD Special Edition version, which includes over 8 hours of excellent extras at www.thecorporation.com, but I also include a short description and links to the entire movie on YouTube, where you can watch in 23 chapters separate chapters.

The Behavior of a Psychopath.

  • Understands the rules, social mores and laws but disregards them
  • Extremely organized, secretive and manipulative
  • Repetitive misbehavior, deceit and concealment of evidence
  • Self-serving with disregard for the feelings and rights of others
  • No conscience or feeling of remorse or guilt
  • Unmindful of putting themselves or others at risk
  • Charismatic and charming outer personality, often hiding the inner personality
  • Able to fly under the radar of society and mimic behaviors that make them appear normal

The behavior of a psychopath and sociopath are similar, but a sociopath’s crimes are typically disorganized, spontaneous and relatively easy to detect. A psychopath’s crimes, on the other hand, are well planned and concealed.

The Corporation THE CORPORATION [Chapter 1/23] What is a Corporation? (7:14 min)The Corporation is today’s dominant institution, creating great wealth but also great harm. This 26 award-winning documentary examines the nature, evolution, impacts and future of the modern business corporation and the increasing role it plays in society and our everyday lives.
 Birth of the Corporation THE CORPORATION [Chapter 2/23] Birth (4:55)How the corporation came to be. Originally, corporations were set up to serve the public good. Corporation lawyers gained rights through the US Supreme Court using the 14th Amendment (set up to protect slaves) that gives them the rights of a person. In the last century, however, the corporation has been given more and more rights while people are increasingly stripped of theirs.
 The Corporation - a legal Person THE CORPORATION [3/23] A Legal “Person” (5:47)Having acquired rights of immortal persons, what kind of person is the corporation? By law, the corporation can only consider the interests of their shareholders. It is legally bound to put its bottom line before everything else, even the public good.
 The Corporation - Externalities THE CORPORATION [4/23] Externalities (2:12)What is an externality? Milton Friedman describes it as the effect of a transaction between two parties on a third party who is not involved in the transaction. A technical sounding term that basically means let somebody else deal with the problems the corporation creates.
 The Corporation - Case Histories THE CORPORATION [5/23] Case Histories (22:53)
Case histories can be used to diagnose the kind of personality that makes the corporation an externality-creating machine. Externalities such as harm to employees through the use of sweatshops: the exploitation of Third World countries’ employees resulting in a huge discrepancy of price versus cost. Other externalities such as pollution and adverse health effects emerge. These include the genesis of the petrochemical industry and links to cancer, birth defects and other toxic effects. Another externality is harm to the biosphere or the environmental costs resulting from the way corporations operate, costs that will be passed off to future generations. Have we created a doom machine?
 The Corporation - the Pathology of Commerce THE CORPORATION [6/23] The Pathology of Commerce (0:46)If we look at the corporation as a legal person, it exhibits all the characteristics of a psychopath using a personality diagnostic checklist by the World Health Organization.
 The Corporation - Monstrous Obligations THE CORPORATION [7/23] Monstrous Obligations (6:14)Who bears the moral responsibility for the actions of a psychopathic institution? The employees of the corporation can be the nicest people in their personal lives but still engage in monstrous endeavors at work. Can we separate the individual from the corporation?
 The Corporation - Mindset THE CORPORATION [8/23] Mindset (8:05)The profit motive drives the actions of the corporation and creates a mindset of competition and anything goes. Meet corporate spy and self-described predator Marc Barry as he describes his tactics for gathering intelligence from competing corporations. Juxtapose his attitude with Ray Anderson, President of Interface, who, in an epiphany moment, realized he was a plunderer and it was only a matter of time before the law figures it out.
 The Corporation - Trading on 9/11 THE CORPORATION [9/23] Trading on 9/11 (2:10)A trader describes the tragedy of 9/11 as a blessing in disguise because for some people, it translated into great riches. Brokers celebrated the death and destruction of the Iraq war because “in devastation, there is opportunity”. 
 The Corporatioon - Boundary Issues THE CORPORATION [10/23] Boundary Issues (7:21)We used to regard many areas as too essential to the public good to be commercialized; they were protected by tradition and regulation. Now, everything is becoming fair game in the private taking of the commons — land, oceans, air, water, education, health, energy and social assistance. Where do we draw the line?
 The Corporation - Basic Training THE CORPORATION [11/23] Basic Training (9:56)Marketing has transformed itself into a sophisticated, pervasive force that extends into every part of our lives. Slick advertising campaigns are designed for the express purpose of manipulating children into buying products and training them to become mindless consumers of goods they don’t really want. The Nag factor, a marketing study that evaluated the effect of nagging, was designed to teach children how to nag more effectively. Consumers are made, not born.
 The Corporation - Perception Management THE CORPORATION [12/23] Perception Management (3:00)Some of our best creative minds are employed to create illusions that divert us from the real issues and manufacture our consent. Beyond their products, the corporation sells us the idea of a better way of life and produces propaganda that affirms their power as necessary for human progress.
 The Corporation - Like a Good Neighbor THE CORPORATION [13/23] Like a Good Neighbor (3:35)Pfizer attempts to “make the community better” with its own private transit security system. An illustration of how the corporation works behind the scenes to reconfigure public policy to suit its needs, yet the image we’re shown is markedly different. Can corporations be trusted to provide public services?
 The Corporation - Private Celebration THE CORPORATION [14/23] A Private Celebration (4:24)Branding is not just advertising, it’s production. It’s the dissemination of the idea of the corporation, such as Disney building a town called Celebration, Florida. They are selling the living embodiment of what the Disney brand is supposed to represent.
 The Corporation - Triumph of the Shill THE CORPORATION [15/23] Triumph of the Shill (3:09)Welcome to the new world of undercover marketing and product placement. With staged encounters such as passer-bys discussing a hot new CD, advertising is infiltrating our lives in ways we’re not even aware of.
 The Corporation - Advancing the Front THE CORPORATION [16/23] Advancing the Front (5:48)Where do tomorrow’s opportunities for profit lie? In the US, the Supreme Court ruled that anything alive can be patented except a human being. When life itself is ruled commercial fair game, gene pirates scour the world for new sources and the human genome project takes on new fervor. [And in Jan/2010, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United gave corporations the Freedom of Speech right to influence political campaigns with no funding limits.]
 The Corporation - Unsettling Accounts THE CORPORATION [17/23] Unsettling Accounts (11:28)
Journalists Jane Akre and Steve Wilson were fired by the Fox News television station they work for after refusing to change their investigative report on Posilac, a Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) made by Monsanto. Their research documents potential health and safety problems of drinking milk treated with the synthetic hormone, but threatened with legal action from Monsanto, Fox wants the negative effects played down. The court eventually throws out Akre’s whistle blower lawsuit after deciding that the media is allowed to lie.
 The Corporation - Expansion Plan THE CORPORATION [18/23] Expansion Plan (4:46)The beginning of the fight for the world’s most important resource: water. In Bolivia, privatization makes water unaffordable for many of its citizens and the resulting protest turns violent when the military opens fire.
 The Corporation - Taking the Right Side THE CORPORATION [19/23] Taking The Right Side (6:55)The rise of fascism has links to corporate power. American corporations played a role in Nazi Germany and the holocaust, such as IBM’s punch-card machines that tabulated the victims’ data. Corporate allegiance to profit trumps their allegiance to nationalism.
 The Corporation - Hostile Takeover THE CORPORATION [20/23] Hostile Takeover (3:24)Despotism was often a useful tool for the corporation to secure foreign markets. Corporations once even attempted to overthrow New Deal President Roosevelt and impose a fascist dictatorship in the US. The story of Major General Smedley Darlington Butler.
 The Corporation - Democracy Ltd. THE CORPORATION [21/23] Democracy Ltd. (8:57)
A coup is no longer necessary for the corporation to dominate governments. Capitalism’s protagonists and players are the new high priests of our day. Industry and government have become intertwined to the extent that it’s hard to tell when one ends and the other begins. But citizens are resisting and protesting their dissent to the centralization of power in corporate hands. The corporation has responded by enacting programs of corporate social responsibility. Are they just a tactic responding to market pressure?
 The Corporation - Pscho Therapies THE CORPORATION [22/23] Psycho Therapies (17:17)
The public is starting to fight back and demand accountability from its corporations and an end to abuse. The Kathy Lee Gifford and Wal-Mart scandal brought the issue of sweatshops into the national consciousness, yet they still exist. There is a disconnect between what we do for a living and taking responsibility for the effect it has on our planet. Citizens everywhere are exploring strategies to bridge the gap and regain democratic control. “One should never underestimate the power of the people.”
 The Corporation - Prognosis THE CORPORATION [23/23] Prognosis (5:06)Epilogue. Victories are being won around the world but are they enough to turn the tide of global corporate dominance? Can we exploit the corporation’s inherent weakness to pursue profit at any cost, even to itself?

 


 

From All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten:

  • Share everything.
    No one person has a greater right to use the planet than any other.
  • Play fair.
    We all know the rules, but are we following them?
  • Don’t hit people.
    Be aware of how your actions affect others.
  • Clean up your own mess.
    Put things back where you found them.
  • Take responsibility for your actions.
    Say you’re sorry if you hurt somebody. Make amends.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
    (And adults, don’t cheat, rob or plunder.)
  • Flush.
    And wash your hands.
  • Indulge.
    Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life.
    Learn & Think, Draw & Paint & Sing, and Dance & Play & Work.
  • Slow down and Rest.
    Take a nap every day.
  • When you go out in the world…
    Watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware and wonder.
    Remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.

 


 

So what do you think? Did I get to political? Do you see a connection in corporate behavior and rising healthcare costs? Did the Affordable Care Act give even more power to big pharma and health insurance companies? I encourage comments below.

 

 

One Response to “Corporate Behavior and Rising Health Care Costs”

  • Besides our various articles tagged Regulatory, here’s another good resource. Obamacare’s Secret History is a detailed account of the sort of back room political dealings that occur in this country and the corrupting role of powerful special interest lobbying. It appears in the Wall Street Journal and is obviously right-leaning, but it describes a political process that’s messy under any administration as long as those special interests have so much access and political influence. While the article implies that President Obama was responsible for concessions made to the pharmaceutical industry, it also shows that his original intent had to be compromised in order to get healthcare reform passed at all.

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