Providence Portland, a gilded palace of American high-cost health care

The United States, according to extensive research, has among the most expensive health care costs in the world, yet our national public health rankings on everything from life longevity to maternal health outcomes to access to oral health, continually fall far behind our developed country neighbors. The United States offers a hybrid approach, including a bizarre, monopolistic, and hybrid non-market health care system that provides products and services (“health care”) without allowing consumers to know the price of a service or product before they make a purchase.

This is a result of more than a century of battles to block the country from adopting universal health care models now used by Canada, England, France, Australia, and Scandinavian Countries, among other developed nations.

One has to look no further than major medical centers in your community to identify some of the major culprits behind the unsustainable growth of health care costs.

In my home city, Portland, one of the major gilded palaces is Providence Portland Medical Center. The Catholic-run system operates in six states and is among the country’s largest non-profits. For its Oregon operations in 2011, the system reported a hefty $2.44 billion in revenue, up 7.4 percent from a year before, according to the respected health care newsletter the Lund Report. The Lund Report noted that profits reached $1.98 billion in 2011 for Oregon operations, up 8.1 percent year-over-year.

Remember, this is a not-for-profit system, and offers what is called “charity care.” Some communities like Tacoma, Wash., in 2012, have stripped some tax exemptions of these so-called non-profits by claiming these health providers acted as for-profit companies while also benefiting from tax exemptions.

Here is another fact to keep in mind. According to the Lund Report, in 2011, Gregory Van Pelt, CEO of Providence Oregon, had a total compensation package of $4.26 million.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans still cannot access basic care. According to a study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation in October 2014, the cost of health care and the reliance on insurance-based care tied to jobs prevent Americans from getting health care.

The foundation notes: “The high cost of insurance has been the main reason why people go without coverage. In 2013, 61% of uninsured adults said the main reason they were uninsured was because the cost was too high or because they had lost their job. Many people do not have access to coverage through a job, and gaps in eligibility for public coverage in the past have left many without an affordable option.”

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