Disease-Mongering is Making Billions for the Health Care Industry and Sending You to the Poorhouse

Health care in America is arguably the best in the world. We have the best-educated physicians, the most highly trained specialists, the hardest working underpaid nurses and access to all of this within at least an hour’s driving distance for almost all of us. Unfortunately, American health care also has one other thing that health care in most other countries don’t. An overwhelming dependence on profit to keep it going.

Only the most cynical among us would say that all doctors care about is making money. Many do, doubtlessly, but you don’t spend that much time in school and that much time in workshops and that much time keeping up with latest trends and that much time with your fingers stuck up the anuses of strangers or inside the gooey mess of gunshot victims unless you have at least a little bit of dedication. But no matter how much dedication to keeping you alive and healthy your doctors may be, the simple unpleasant fact is that health care in America is all geared toward maximizing profit.

The need for revenue to keep the whole American health care system from collapsing upon itself is the core reason why so many patients in the United States undergo unnecessary screenings, take unnecessary drugs, and constantly fear that a sniffle may turn into something serious. There is even an official term for the profit-motive behind making Americans think they have health problems that must be taken care pharmaceutically or surgically. It’s called disease-mongering. And it’s so prevalent that it even has its own Wikipedia entry. Well, okay, maybe that’s not the best indication of how subversively integral to American society disease-mongering really is, but you get my meaning.

Disease-mongering is all about maximizing revenues in the name of health care. Unfortunately, in too many instances, it’s in name only. Much like with the current political climate, disease-mongering draws its power from the ability to instill fear. If the health care industry can successfully scare you into thinking your very health is at risk you will be far more likely to add to the profit kitty of the industry by going to the doctor on those arbitrarily designed checkup points, undergoing diagnostic tests that may not be necessary, and rushing to the local Walgreen or Walmart to buy the latest cold medication. Have you checked out the cold remedies aisle lately? The specialization is amazing: Cold medication, cold with fever medication, cough and cold medication, daytime, nighttime, daytime & nighttime, flu, sinus, elixirs, tablets, chewables. And the list goes on.

Disease-mongering works best through advertising. Especially television commercials. But TV isn’t all to blame. Magazines have become a haven for disease-mongering full-page and even multi-page ads promising to help you with your condition. Over the past decade or so, probably the single greatest success in the whole disease-mongering market is the migraine market. Now migraines are no laughing matter. I know because I suffer from them. Migraines aren’t fun. Here’s the thing, though. Most migraines have a trigger and once you can narrow that trigger down-whether it be caffeine, some kind of food, too much noise or too many bright lights-you can severely cut down on the number of migraines you suffer. But the disease-mongering pharmaceutical companies have discovered a much easier way to help you. By making special Migraine Relief versions of such old standby medications as Motrin, Advil, and Tylenol. There’s a little secret about these Migraine Relief pain relievers that the pharmaceutical disease-mongerers don’t want you to know: The special migraine versions are NO DIFFERENT from the standard versions. That’s right. There is NO DIFFERENCE between Motrin and Motrin Migraine. There is NO DIFFERENCE between Advil and Advil Migraine. And on and on. Disease-mongering at its best.

As I indicated, disease-mongering begins with advertising. The health care system uses advertising to first convince you that you should be deeply concerned about what usually are typical discomforts we all suffer through. One or two ads we can usually ignore, but when you sit down to watch your favorite show and three or four commercials out of that hour are all manipulating a rise in your concern over allergies or arthritis or sexual dysfunction or baldness, that’s when disease-mongering really kicks in. What person hasn’t felt a stiffness in her joints? What guy hasn’t had the occasional trouble starting his Johnson outboard? The fact that these are all not only normal, but in some ways necessary to the human condition doesn’t matter.

Once you’ve been manipulated into being concerned about your specific health care problems, that’s when the trouble really starts. You watch commercials and news reports until you realize you should get your blood pressure checked some time because hypertension is running rampant in America. So you go in and you get it checked and the doctor tells you it’s a little high and that he’s a little concerned. He’s not recommending that you need medication just yet; you can probably lower it with a dietary changes and exercise for now. Later that day at the office you get a call from one of your European clients. The chat turns to blood pressure and you tell him that you’re going to have to start making some changes because your reading was high. He asks you how high your blood pressure is and there’s a pause. Then he informs you that he just had his blood pressure checked last week and it’s two points above yours and his doctor told him his pressure was normal.

What’s the deal? The standard for what is considered average blood pressure is lower in America and Canada than in most of the rest of the world. The result is that compared to Americans most of the rest of the world looks like they are ignoring the dangers of high blood pressure. But might it not be that the standard for average is set low in order to increase the concern? What happens, of course, is that while your friend in Europe isn’t scared into taking anti-hypertension drugs, you are being put on a strict regimen. But shouldn’t that translate into more heart-related deaths in Europe? Why then does almost every European country have fewer deaths per capita from coronary heart disease than America?

Disease-mongering also makes its way into screenings and diagnostic testing. And the risk goes beyond the financial. You aren’t just paying for all those tests you are taking a genuine risk. In addition to exposure to radiation in certain cases, you run the risk of a false result. If the result of the test is a false positive, you’ll be utterly convinced you are dangerously sick or ill. You may undergo more testing or begin taking drugs you have no reason to. In extreme cases people have sought treatment after a false positive for a condition they didn’t have. Since they didn’t have it, none of the treatments were deemed effective and so they began seeking radical and risky treatments. Admittedly, these are incredibly rare cases, but the indisputable fact remains that more and more people are undergoing not only tests, but even surgical procedures that are completely unnecessary, but provide a healthy monetary return.

Disease-mongering is getting worse, in part because the GOP Congress is in no hurry to slap any kind of regulations on the industry. Well, that’s to be expected when the leader of the Senate is a doctor, I suppose. The best advice is to remember to critically deconstruct any advertisement for health care products you see. The makers want to sell you something and whether you really need it or not is pretty much beside the point. If you do, all the better for them. If you don’tâÂ?¦well, profit must be made.

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