For all the trillions we spend on health care each year, there’s an underreported scandal in America impacting all of us. Life expectancy has taken a sharp dive, and our death rate is trending in the wrong direction — up, not down. Today, we explore what’s wrong with Dr. John Abramson, a family doctor and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, where he teaches health care policy. His newest eye-opening book is “Sickening: How Big Pharma Broke American Health Care and How We Can Repair It.”
The following is a transcript of a report from “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.” Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
Sharyl: To what factors do you attribute what I think could be called corruption inside the industry / government on these issues?
Dr. John Abramson: If we believe that the function of the pharmaceutical industry and the biotech industry is to do science that’s competently set up and analyzed and transparent and peer-reviewed transparently and published in journals so doctors can read about the best way to take care of their patients, if that’s what we expect, it’s corruption. And the public isn’t understanding this. Because their job is to maximize the money that gets returned to the investors. And until we just accept that — stop believing all the ads that they’re there to save us and stop grandma from getting dementia and so forth and so on — we’ve got to stop believing that. Because their job is to make money, and they’re going to play that game just like professional athletes play their game. Except there aren’t many referees in the biotech and pharma industry like there are referees in professional sports.
Dr. Abramson says he wants to wake up Americans to some alarming health trends.
First, while people in comparable countries are living longer, the U.S. has seen the opposite trend. American life expectancy showed a uniquely sharp drop in 2020 and 2021, bottoming out at age 76, and recovering only to 77.5 in 2022. The low point was the worst since 1996, with people in Japan and Switzerland living about eight full years longer.
Meantime, American taxpayers are spending a lot more to achieve the poor results. The U.S. spends more than double the average on health care, nearly $13,000 per person a year. That’s way more than Japan, where they lived 8.5 years longer in 2021.
And finally, the U.S. death rate. In the 1980s, things were good. Fifty thousand fewer Americans were dying than expected, compared to other wealthy countries. But fast-forward to 2021, and things devolved dramatically.
Abramson: We’re so much worse than the other countries that 1.1 million Americans are dying each year in excess of the rates of death in the other countries. So that’s 3,000 Americans are dying every day. It’s like a 9/11 every day because our health and health care has become so inferior to the other countries. To achieve that inferior health, we’re spending more than twice as much as the other countries on a per-person basis each year. And the excess that we’re spending is $2.3 trillion, which is more than the annual federal budget deficit in the United States. So we’ve got this budget deficit that’s crippling our country, both politically and economically, and it’s to achieve far inferior health care. This makes no sense.
Sharyl: An implication of what you’ve said is not only that the more money we’ve spent, it hasn’t helped, but the more money we’ve spent, it may be hurting. Is it having an impact to hurt the health of our citizens as we’ve spent more money?
Abramson: The evidence shows that. The reason why this dysfunction is stable is that everything that the doctors read is talking about the benefit of new drugs. So 96% of our research dollars go to studying new drugs and devices, and only 4% of our research dollars go to figuring out how to make people healthier and provide better health care. So doctors, their job is to stay up with the current knowledge and read the journals and know what evidence-based medicine is. Well, 96% of that evidence is about new drugs and devices, but only 20% of our health has to do with health care. Doctors are trained to think that all of being a good doctor has to do with incorporating the latest technology into their practice. And they don’t understand that this is just where the most money is going to be found.
Sharyl: Is it reasonable to assume this is by design?
Abramson: I think the question is, is there a conspiracy or a confluence of interest? I don’t think that there’s a plan to make people less healthy and make more money because they’re less healthy. I think there’s a confluence of interest that we — we being the biotech industries and pharma industries — can extract the most money by having the health care system function like this. And the result is terrible health. So I think the problem is that this is the way the game is played by the executives in the biotech industries. Their job is to maximize the financial return to their stockholders. And if the federal budget gets hurt, and if Americans’ health gets hurt, that’s just collateral damage.
Sharyl (on-camera): Though some blame the U.S. excess deaths and drop in life expectancy on Covid, it doesn’t explain why other countries hit hard by Covid didn’t experience similar trends. And the U.S. is among the countries most vaccinated against Covid.
Watch video here.
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