Americans spend over 17% of our GDP on health care, and no other country comes close. Yet, what we get in return is a mediocre product. Our life expectancy is 24th best, according to Bloomberg, and our health efficiency score is a woeful 46th.
So, why do we pay so much for middling results? Because our health laws are written for insurance and drug companies, and written BY their lobbyists. Yes, some of our most consequential laws are written by people paid to maximize the profits of an industry.
Through the major health law changes of the last ten years, one man has been in the middle of it: Billy Tauzin. Tauzin was the pharmaceutical drug industry’s biggest advocate in Congress, when he served there from 1980 to 2005 (the first fifteen years as a Democrat, then he switched to being a Republican in 2005). After that, he was tapped to head PhRMA, the top pharmaceutical lobbying group. In 2010, the year Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), Tauzin was the country’s highest paid health lobbyist, raking in $11.6 million.
And the pharmaceutical industry got their money’s worth off Tauzin: he struck a deal with Obama that got Obama PhRMA’s support and $80 billion in savings on prescription drugs, but stopped Obamacare from allowing drug importations from Canada and Medicare cost reductions. Not bad for the first big agenda item of a president with a huge surge of populist momentum.
Actually, that wasn’t a good enough deal for PhRMA. Tauzin was let go after Obamacare was signed. Washington’s sleaziest man wasn’t sleazy enough for his employer.
Tauzin might be the easiest example of the corruption in Washington, but he's hardly the only one. The insurance lobby is even bigger and stronger than the pharmaceutical lobby, and that's how they have managed to stay as the country's largest middle man. That's it's own discussion, but here is a simple fact to consider. Canada has the world's 17th most efficient health system, Canadians live 2.3 years longer than Americans and they have universal health care. That means everyone gets health care for free.