Big Pharma Economy Health Jim Hightower

Medical Debt Is a Rip-Off

Health care giants aren’t just making care more expensive. They’re putting Americans in debt bondage.
Rastrojo (D•ES), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Jim Hightower / Other Words

Many big business CEOs turn out to be grifters who rip off consumers, workers, and others. But the corporate con artists I consider most vile are those who profiteer from people’s health care needs.

We’ve had such infamous, high-profile scammers as Medicare fraudster (and now Florida Senator) Rick Scott, Big Pharma price gouger Martin Shkreli, and the Sackler family of opioid pushers. Even worse, we now face an industry-wide epidemic of insurers, hospitals, and others that are pushing higher costs onto patients and then systematically pushing those who can’t pay the full inflated tab into debt schemes.

With bloated interest charges, payments go on for years. Now wonder medical bankruptcies are soaring.

The most significant statistic in today’s avaricious world of health care finance is this: Half of U.S. adults don’t have the money to cover a $500 medical bill.

Thus, as the system keeps jacking up its prices and profits, millions of families are forced by illness or injury into the dark valley of debt, inhabited by ruthless debt collectors employed by the medical establishment.

But wait, you say, I have health insurance! Still, ever-rising prices and out-of-pocket insurance requirements can put you into debt, too. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 6 out of 10 working-age adults with health coverage went into medical debt in the past five years.

Most perversely, health care debt prevents many people from getting health care.

One in seven Americans say the corporate system has refused care to them because they have unpaid medical bills, and two-thirds say they’ve put off care because of the fear of crushing debt.

As one expert puts it: “The No.1 reason — and the No. 2, 3, and 4 reasons — that people go into medical debt is they don’t have the money. It’s not complicated.”

To help stop the health industry’s grifters and profiteers, go to

Jim Hightower
Jim Hightower

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. This op-ed was distributed by


  1. And yet, the Democrats push billions more for those wonderful Military Industrial Complex leaches. Then, of course, now the brain dead Biden and his Admin want to send fighter jets to the UkoNazis.

    Look, way before Ralph Nader, many looked at the penury of the medical system. You have had these hospital CEOs lavish themselves in new $100,000 panelling and $100,000 office furnishings just for one leach while that same CEO hires on $1000 an hour union buster lawyers (crimnals, one and all) to keep hospital staff from collectively bargaining. You know, food workers and bed pan workers making $16 an hour while CEOs join the other leaches in their mile high clubs.

    Look at the throw away money for every suspected Covid case in hospitals. How much $ do we, the taxpayer, throw at those hospitals? Have you ever seen the complete bill of a two week hospital stay? Itemized? Shampoo at $40 an ounce for a bald patient? Each and every bandage, charged?

    The system is predicated on Capitalism — criminal, colluding, cancerous, casino Capitalism. Try having a talk with any of those Eichmann Millionaires and Multi-Millionaires. They don’t talk, brothers and sisters. They announce, look down upon us mortals, PR spin, flak flak flak.

    Capitalism is that disaster of several hundred years, imported here, Usury Land, by the evil seed of Anglo-Saxon cretins.

    1. Your overheated comments with so much venom detract from whatever point you wanted to make.

      The problems with the money side of our health care and health insurance systems have been intelligently dissected by numerous scholars. We basically know what’s wrong.

      But think of what it took to get social security passed. FDR had huge congressional majorities but stilled had to make great compromises, mostly to racist southern Democrats.

      But what was considered communism is now a third rail of American politics. Maybe in 30 years OBAMACare will have grown in a similar fashion.

      One of the most insightful books written in the last 20 or so years was Thomas Frank’s What’s The Matter With Kansas. It was a look into why working class people vote against their own interests and support politicians who do so also, like an expansion of Medicaid.

      The two most powerful forces in America are race and money and when their interests align its hard to know how to reverse course. I think it will take 500 years but I fear we will run out of potable water far before then.

      1. Oh, more Sheared Off Post levelers of pscyhoology and rhetorical skills.

        WDD — Weapon of Dumb Downing. Thomas Frank’s book the most important one in two decades? Go away, WDD. That belies ignorance. Frank?

        Frank wrote:

        “We cannot admit that we liberals bear some of the blame for its emergence, for the frustration of the working-class millions, for their blighted cities and their downward spiraling lives. So much easier to scold them for their twisted racist souls, to close our eyes to the obvious reality of which Trumpism is just a crude and ugly expression: that neoliberalism has well and truly failed.”

        Many, including one commentators, DR Tucker was having none of it. Fact is, he said, there are a lot of racists out there who are attracted to Trump’s message. Class has nothing to do with it.

        “Trump’s crazed cheerleaders would be supporting malevolence against Mexicans and Muslims even in times of abundant prosperity. Was Pat Buchanan primarily tapping into “economic anxiety” in his second run for the Presidency twenty years ago, during the thriving Clinton years? Of course not—he was tapping into the same raw racism and pathetic prejudice that powered his first White House campaign in 1992.”

        DR does progressivism a great service, because Frank’s way of thinking has become dominant among a certain faction of white progressive that is deeply informed by socialism but not in thrall to it. This kind of progressive tends to focus on money and class as first principles, believing that racism is symptomatic of an underlying problem. Trump is a natural consequence of exploitation and wealth extraction, Frank believes, and elite liberals are complicit. The problem is that Frank’s argument rests on the assumption that race and class can be disentangled. DR, who is black, and a former Republican, is naturally skeptical of that claim.

        “Democrats bear no responsibility for the strength of the Trump campaign. Progressives bear no responsibility for the strength of the Trump campaign. Hate bears all responsibility for the strength of the Trump campaign—and Frank’s failure to fully acknowledge that reality is morally irresponsible.”

        Indeed, if Frank’s claim is correct, that the ugliness of Trumpism is the consequence of blind economic forces rather than all-too-human bigotry, how do we explain the booming post-war years in the United States, in which wealth and prosperity were widely distributed but white supremacy nakedly evident?

        But I think there’s another reason Frank is wrong. And in underscoring this reason, I invite all manner of criticism, especially the charge of elitism. Frank and other white progressives informed by socialism but not in thrall to it have a problem. They possess an abundant populist faith in the power of the people.

        The people are, of course, the true sovereign in a representative democracy. The people are central to our principles, republican form of government, and ability to hold accountable those in power. But “the people” do little that’s progressive.

        Progress has nearly always come from a dedicated minority with limited resources pursuing a narrowly defined agenda. Take abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, labor rights, gay rights. The winners of these battles were elites in their respective worlds determined to work within an existing political order.

        Frank and others pine for the day when America witnesses a genuine working class revolt that blows up the system. That’s great, but then what? Oh, the people will figure it out. And it seems they have.

        They figured out they like Trump.

      2. I confess to not understanding most of your post but just a couple of observations.

        I don’t know who DR Tucker is. I googled him or her but nothing came up.

        I did not say that Frank’s book was the most important one in the last 20 years but it was a good one.

        I don’t think Frank takes the positions you ascribe to him.

        The wealth of the U.S. was much more widely dispersed in the post WW II years but it took the economy about 7 or 8 years to really get rolling.

        Thom Hartman had a statistic the other day in his post. My cohort as a baby boomer group when we’re of millennial, age 25-45 I guess, possessed 21% of the nations wealth. That cohort now possesses about 4%.

        However, the dispersal was mostly among the White working class.

        Having suffered no infrastructure damage during the war we were ready to rebuild the world, much of which was in need of rebuilding.

        Unions were strong. 35% of the workforce in 1954. Now it hovers near 10% with a large portion being public sector unions that did not exist largely until the 1970’s.

        Corporations had not yet enshrined the tenets of Milton Friedman, that the only measure of corporate success is shareholder value.

        Corporate CEO’s were paid only 40 times the shop floor worker, not 400.

        I’ll repeat my self. Race and money are the two most powerful motivating factors in America and when they are aligned that are almost impossible to overcome in the name of Justice and equality.

        I seem to remember back in the 50’s or 60’s there was a radio evangelist, Reverend Ike, who use to say “the lack of money is the root of all evil.”

  2. Hightower did his best. Where is his successor? Our country is devolving, rapidly.

  3. it was evil Obama–the ACA —supported by greedy insurance , hospitals, Pharma, physicians that prevents universal health —all civilized nations have universal health care–Nicaragua Cuba, Hungary Russia also have mandatory paid parental leave and tuition free university—USA too impoverished to provide tents for the millions of homeless but rich enough to spend 4 trillion $ to be defeated by Taliban

  4. Please do some writing on “non-profits”. Most healthcare systems claim just that as well as other types of businesses. It is hard to miss the fact they continually accumulate prime real estate upon which they are continually building and ‘improving’. Can someone recommend a good critically thought out review or book that can explain non-profits. Who benefits, who doesn’t, what is the end game tbere?

    1. To imagine new worlds, we need words that reflect our current one. Audre Lorde tells us, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” and I think this is why there is such a proliferation of new language on the left — we are describing forces we have purposefully been given no words to describe — new words to talk about gender, race, and identity — new words to talk about a diversity of internal experiences — new words to talk about the oppressive ways society is organized. We create these new words to describe truths we know deeply and simply but have not yet heard someone else speak.

      I believe creating and updating lexicons are crucial in helping us see our world more clearly. I also believe it’s important to take the time to define and explain these words for people who weren’t around when they were crafted, because we risk excluding people with language that seems overly technical if we don’t.

      And sometimes the language is overly technical, which is something those of us with the privilege of a certain type of education need to reckon with if we want to be part of accessible movements. Other times, specificity in language is necessary for the sharp definition it brings to something important.

      The term “nonprofit industrial complex” is one of these pieces of language that benefit from definition. It needs a place in our shared vocabulary, for the way it helps us see the nonprofit sector more clearly.

      What is an ‘industrial complex’?
      There is a substantial amount of idealism in the mainstream imagination when it comes to nonprofits. “Charitable nonprofits embody the best of America,” proclaims the National Council on Nonprofits. “They provide a way for people to work together for the common good, transforming shared beliefs and hopes into action.” Nonprofits are held up as the path toward making the world a better place. However, as with most mainstream narratives, the truth is far messier. This is because of the nonprofit industrial complex.

      It’s a little like setting off to explore the wilderness of radical change, only to realize you’re in a man-made hedge maze leading in one direction. Each bend of the maze is erected by a network of public and private entities — including the state, businesses, individuals, and nonprofits themselves — who make decisions that uphold the power each of them has in society. (Here, the ‘state’ refers to various arms of government and their role in maintaining society, including its oppressive principles.) These entities, and the way the relationships between them advances their interests rather than the public good, make up the nonprofit industrial complex.

      The result is a labyrinth that restricts how we can move within nonprofits, funneling our work in certain directions and walling off others. It turns radical possibilities into dead ends, ensures that the path of least resistance is one that doesn’t challenge those in power, and amplifies corporate and state interests over the voices of those most impacted by inequity.

  5. America, a land built on the backs of slaves and genocide of its native Americans. A society that denies the basic right of medical care to its citizens. A place where violence permeates all levels, from the poor to its overpaid generals and Joint Chiefs to its rapacious “health care” system. A society doomed to collapse from the weight of inequality, exploitation and greed.

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