PhRMA Lobbying Power Topples the World

Dr. Doug Walta, recently retired chief executive of clinical programs, physician strategy, outreach and diversity for Providence Health & Services painted a bleak picture for Portland State University and Oregon Health Sciences University students preparing for careers in healthcare at a recent Institute for Healthcare Improvement Open School lecture.

America provides the world’s highest-priced care with the lowest life expectancy of developed countries, with half of all bankruptcies related to healthcare costs, while one in seven Medicare beneficiaries is harmed while hospitalized, Dr. Douglas Walta told students last week.

With 18 percent of GDP spent on healthcare, less money is available for schools, roads or other public goods. “We are a parasite taking it from everybody,” Walta said.

Trends portend a bleaker future still. “PhRMA has the most powerful lobby in the world,” controlling drug prices that even the federal government cannot negotiate, Walda said. “Universities have to sell their souls to the drug companies” because federal grant funding is largely gone.

Drug makers can charge $100,000 a year for a prostrate drug that doesn’t increase life expectancy. Hepatitis C drugs do cure the disease but “might break Oregon’s bank,” considering the number of cases in the state.

Only one in seven workers in the US is within a normal weight range, and rising obesity brings a cascade of vascular disease, joint disease and renal failure, Walta said.

The students themselves were less pessimistic.

Laura Green, working on a masters in social work at PSU says she sees housing, education and anti-violence efforts as health policy. She hopes to see more attention given to childhood trauma as an indicator of future health.

Lance Cook, a junior working on a bachelor of science in nursing at OHSU and the vice president of the Oregon Student Nurses Association, said his own family had experience with medical bankruptcies. He hopes to see culture change as more nurses become involved in policy boards.

Walta cited Salt Lake City as a place where efforts to house the homeless proved that doing “something that wasn’t healthcare made healthcare costs come down.”

Students generally supported a single payer system similar to the measure proposed by Healthcare for All Oregonians.

Jan can be reached at [email protected]

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Jan Johnson's brief article and Doug Walta's talk capture the embarrassment that is our money-driven health care environment, and the hopeful efforts of new young professionals to bring change and better use of resources despite the greedy world they have inherited. Well done. It reminds me to recommend the book "Money Driven Medicine" by Maggie Mahar to anyone who hasn't yet read it. It may depress you, but it will inform and arm you as few publications do so well.

Don Thieman

I am 65 years old and I don't see any drastic changes in our healthcare system in the near future, even with new young professionals coming.  Too many healthcare users expect a silver bullit fix for their healthcare problems and as long as there is an isurance company to pay most of the bill there is little incentive to change behavior or accept the consequences. We are being kept alive until the next time a more costly fix is needed. It's not just greed, but a sense of entitlement to all the promising treatments without much thought to the benefit/cost ratio. How many people do their own research or seek a second opinion? Most of us are too trusting and infatuated with our own medical providers. There needs to be a major overhaul of our healthcare system, not just upper level cosmetic policy changes.

Delores Porch