WASHINGTON (Nexstar) – It’s no secret the cost of healthcare is much higher in the United States compared to other high-income countries. Now, lawmakers are examining the cause and the role of corporate consolidation.
Lawmakers want to know how consolidation in the healthcare industry is impacting quality and prices and want “to examine whether these practices are hot wiring our healthcare system to favor mega-corporations at the expense of patients,” Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) said.
Doctors and other experts from around the country told senators that mergers and consolidation of hospitals, pharmacies and other healthcare facilities is a problem.
“I’m concerned. Over the last two decades, insurance premiums in the U.S. have gone up over 215%,” Dr. Zack Cooper of Yale University said during a Congressional hearing. “About 20% of hospital mergers have lessened competition and led to price increases.”
Experts also say that profit-driven private investors are driving prices up while decreasing pay for nurses and other professionals. Additionally, they say all of that makes patient outcomes worse.
“Those acquisitions are associated with decreased staffing and worse health outcomes, including higher rates of emergency department visits and mortality,” Dr. Karen Joynt Maddox of Washington State University said.
Lawmakers say the problems will require complex solutions including, “comprehensive and carefully tailored policies that prioritize patients from all walks of life,” Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) said.
Dr. Cooper says it’s critical to hold healthcare conglomerates accountable by implementing systems to track patient outcomes.
Cooper added, “What really is going to underpin the function of health care markets in the U.S. is ability to measure providers quality.”