A Covey of Vultures

Ed Raymond

There Are Old Bold Pirates and New Bold Pirates     

I’m transposing a phrase by E. Hamilton Lee and General Chuck Yeager, both pilots of renown, who used the phrase: “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots” in the old business of flying airplanes to the new business of swindling money out of healthcare consumers. The first Golden Age of Piracy in history lasted between 1650 and 1730 was led by a back-alley list of glamorous despicable pirates by the descriptive names of Long John Blackbeard, Patch-Eye Hook, Peg-Leg, and “Calico Jack” Rackham who loved the various partnerships he forged with female pirates as they rocked together on the high seas. We had “Captain” Kidd who supposedly buried treasure on island shores around the world before he was executed at Execution Dock in London in 1701. “Black Sam” Bellamy was a nice pirate who stole from the rich and was known as the “Robin Hood of the Pirates” by giving much of his share of loot to the poor.   

Ed “Blackbeard” Teach was the most notorious of the old pirates among English-speaking nations and sailed his famous ship the Queen Anne’s Revenge in many an encounter with ships loaded with gold, precious stones, and other worthy cargo. He was killed by an English marksman from an attacking ship in 1718. Henry Morgan was an English pirate who concentrated on raiding the Spanish settlements in the New World. He sacked Panama City and burned it to the ground. He was supposed to be hanged in London for committing piracy---but the English made him governor of Jamaica where he died a natural death in 1688. There are dozens of fascinating characters who dominated the Golden Age almost three centuries ago.  

We Are Now Going Through The Second Golden Age of Piracy     

The pirates who are murdering, plundering, and forcing us to walk the plank to bankruptcy today do nor wear black eye patches, cutlasses, a brace of pistols, do not drink grog, have no legs lost from cannon, do not poop off the poop deck, but they rob us of cash, businesses, homes, cars, and dignity in their piratical raids on the American people.   

First, in the Second Golden Age of Piracy, we have the Sackler family who, with their deadly opiod products such as OxyContin and Oxycodone, have killed over 200,000 people while gaining $13.2 billion in loot. They tried to rehab their reputations by giving lots of money to museums, art galleries, and universities. Not a single one of them carries a cutlass or a brace of pistols but the pockets on their $4,000 Armani suits are stuffed with dynamic little pills and the addresses of cooperating pharmacies. The “OxySacklers” flooded the country with their deadly addictive pills that drove millions of people to homeless streets, bankruptcy, suicide and death by overdose. They did not carry skull and crossed-bone flags as they leapt over the side to attack a loaded ship—but each pill box shipped should have been embossed with the same flag.

The family is being sued by 600 cities in 28 states and by eight Indian tribes. Like Blackbeard, the eight members of the Sackler family are now frantically hiding ill-gotten treasure around the world on tiny islands serving as tax havens—while 130 Americans overdose every day from prescription drugs and 400,000 have died from opiods since the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma lied about addiction. Second, we have many reasons why Americans pay twice as much for healthcare than any other civilized country that has universal care. The “free market” has made our healthcare the most expensive in the world because of greed. Doctors pledge to do no harm but they operate in a system that now has 87 million people with no or inadequate health insurance. Here’s why it’s the most expensive.

The median salary of a healthcare CEO in the U.S. was $7.7 million in 2018, with 14 of them making more than $46 million each. The highest paid healthcare CEO in 2018 was Leonard Schleifer of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals at $118 million. His salary alone could have paid for 472,000 asthma inhalers for children. Pharmaceutical CEOs represented 11 of the 25 highest salaries in 2018. MxKesson CEO John Hammergren received a $4 million bonus even while his company, after making billions peddling billions of pills to addicts and unsuspecting pain sufferers, was facing thousands of lawsuits. CEOs of medium-sized hospitals make more than $3 million a year while CEOs of larger hospitals and chains make more than $10 million a year.  

More Reasons Why We Need Sanders-Warren Medicare for All Universal Care  

In a campaign letter to all Americans Senator Bernie Sanders described taking diabetes patients across the Canadian border at Detroit to buy life-saving vials of insulin for $30 a vial in Windsor, Ontario. In the United States the same vial in pirate pharmacies costs on average $340. Americans are dying from corporate greed because they cannot afford insulin. One in four Americans rations his own insulin. Americans are dying of a human “wasting disease” called greed.   

An Indiana family went with Bernie and bought a six-month supply of insulin that cost them $1,000 for a son, saving $9,000. Bernie says: “These lower prices in Canada are possible because it negotiates drug prices with drug companies which cannot be done in the United States. Canadians have the common sense to say profits are not more important than the lives of citizens.

We must also allow the importation of drugs from other countries.” The American Diabetes Association estimates that we have slightly over 30 million diabetics in the U.S. In Minnesota a diabetes case is diagnosed every 35 minutes.   

The word “insulin” comes from the Latin word “insula” meaning island. German researchers in 1889 discovered that when the pancreas gland was removed from dogs they died quickly. The removal caused diabetes. Two researchers in 1921 removed “a thick brown muck” from the pancreas and kept dogs alive for more than 70 days by injecting it in dogs with diabetes. In 1922 a 14-year-old boy dying of diabetes was injected with insulin which dropped his dangerously high blood glucose levels to near-normal. He was the first person in the world to survive that condition. Eli Lilly immediately started to produce insulin from animals, making enough to eventually supply the North American continent. Synthetic insulin was first produced by Eli Lilly in 1978 which was later sold under the brand name Humulin.  

And This Is When A Large Covey Of Drug Pirates Started To Pillage Americans     

The American pirates wearing Armani suits and white coats and face masks have raised prices of insulin so much over the years it has become one of the reasons we pay twice as much for healthcare than any other country in the civilized world. Economic and medical researchers at BMJ Global Health have determined that after examining expenses for ingredients, production, delivery, and a reasonable profit, a year’s supply of regular human insulin should sell for $48 to $71. For genetically altered forms of analog insulins used for long-acting treatments, a year’s supply should run between $78 and $133.   

The study also estimated the cost of production for one vial of human insulin runs between $2.28 and $3.42 while one vial of analog insulin should run between $3.69 and $6.16. Andrew Hill, the study co-author, claims anyone with Type 1 diabetes “should be able to buy insulin for under a $100 a year, including the long-acting forms. Pharmaceutical companies cannot justify charging governments $532 per person per year in the United Kingdom, and $1,251 in the U.S. let alone similar amounts in low and middle-income countries.” But Meghan Mateuszczyk, a 20-year-old student at Moorhead State, is paying $500 a month, or $6,000 a year, for five pens of insulin!

The battle over insulin costs in the Minnesota legislature featured a statement by Stephen Schondelmeyer, a pharmacist and professor of pharmaceutical economics at the University of Minnesota: “Insulin can cost $15,000 to $20,000 a year.”(!) Shouldn’t the politicians figure out why his statement is true? What is a reasonable profit margin for the manufacture of types of insulin? Americans borrowed $88 billion in 2018 to pay for healthcare. In the ranking of the top 11 industrialized countries measuring quality, efficiency, access, equity, and healthy lives we rank dead last. The World Health Organization ranks us 37th in the world because we have the most expensive system with the worst outcomes.

We pay astronomical prices for medications while we have (I repeat!) 87 million with no or inadequate health insurance.  

To Rid The United States Of Healthcare Pirates We Must Have Single-Payer Medicare For All As Proposed By Sanders-Warren     

Here is some more evidence:

1. Hundreds of hospitals sue patients for payment. Here are just two examples. Virginia hospitals filed 20,000 lawsuits against individuals over patient debt. A small hospital in Carlsbad, New Mexico has filed 3,000 lawsuits against local patients since 2015 and over 500 in the first nine months of 2019.

2. A Florida woman with health insurance had to have a dilation and curettage procedure because her fetus died at 13 weeks. The insurance company paid only a small portion of her bill. She was left to pay the following: anesthesiologist-$1,368, hospital-$500, lab work-$228.52, obstetrician-$1,017.43, fetal autopsy-$1,400, and one appointment-$273.

3. Naval Air Force veteran John Weigel had $139,000 in medical debt and was considering suicide. He approached Bernie Sanders at a rally and mentioned his problem. Sanders immediately went to work, got his health insurance reinstated. A friend started a GoFundMe to help him pay the debt. It raised $45,000 from 2,100 donors. Sanders insists we need single-payer to eliminate what Weigel went through. Weigel offered Sanders his military leather flight jacket to thank him. Sanders refused it--but did accept a flight patch.

4. A recent Gallup Poll revealed that fully one-quarter of Americans stated they or a family member delayed medical care for a serious condition because of cost in 2019. The number is the highest ever recorded on that question.

5. We are the only industrialized country where the human life span is decreasing. We are also near the bottom ranking in preventing infant mortality.

6. For years about 50% of personal bankruptcies were caused by excessive medical bills. In 2019 it has reached 67.5%.   

We must change our healthcare from a crazy-quilt bogus “free market” system to one where every person has a right to healthcare. It will take several broadsides of millions of votes in 2020 to sink the pirate yachts now in battle lines by insurance and hospital CEOs at the helm. Many economists have determined that new programs like Medicare For All will, in the end, reduce all healthcare costs by about 10%. The Urban Institute estimates that Americans will save about $21.9 trillion over ten years.

Think of it. At the present time about a third of private health insurance premiums go to billing, collection, marketing, advertising, and the huge profits that purchase pirate yachts and mansions.

The vulture pirates are always circling over money. We have to end the second Golden Age of Piracy in 2020.