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Export our health care industry? Why - because it works so well for us?

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David Durenberger
Former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, R-Minn., chairs the National Institute of Health Policy at the University of St. Thomas.
Photo courtesy of the University of St. Thomas

A physician I know read a story in Tuesday's newspaper at about the same time I did, 6 a.m. By 8 we'd found that we were having identical reactions to this absurdity. But he had a better way of expressing it: "It's like a parasite eating its host."

"They have bankrupted our culture, so now they want to try and bankrupt China and India," he said.

It's the story of America's largest private health insurance companies combining with our largest medical device, drug and diagnostic companies and multispecialty medical corporations to create jobs in America "by exporting the wonders of American medicine to the developing world." The Alliance for Healthcare Competitiveness wants the government to build its foreign free-trade policy around the health care industry.

In case you think this is a good idea, think twice. These businesses claim to be the best job producers in a down economy and to produce products essential to "the best health care system in the world." All true. But unlike every other legitimate business in America, they make money off the most costly, inefficient, non-productive and profitable enterprise in the world. 

Health care is not an American business like 3M or General Mills, or Target or Microsoft or Apple, where profits must be earned from innovation, competition and rapidly enhanced value in product or service. The medical industry and its "customers" are heavily subsidized by government tax and spending policy to enhance research and development, marketing and access -- but not quality or affordability. 

We "customers" pay $2.7 trillion for, at best, $2 trillion worth of service from this industry. President Obama called representatives of the industry to the White House when he launched his reform effort. In exchange for expanding coverage to 32 million more customers, the industry was asked to change its policy course in a way that lowers costs. Today most are busy using members of Congress to bail out on whatever promises they were forced to make, or raising prices to make up for lost revenue. 

We pay 40 to 60 percent more for this industry's products than people like us pay in every other developed country. So it can afford to market its U.S. success to China, India and Brazil. And to Europe and Asia, South America, Australia and Antarctica. It is aided and abetted by politicians who buy the line about "job creation" in a competitive economy (or in a nonexistent economy). 

I know something about India and China. I expect each will finance its people's demand for social services out of foreign investment taxes. We, the American taxpayers, are already overloaded carrying the costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and employer-paid insurance, and cross-subsidization for underinsured and uninsured neighbors.

We should not be covering the costs of allowing a parasite to continue to eat its host.

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David Durenberger, former Republican U.S. senator from Minnesota, is senior health policy fellow at the University of St. Thomas and chairman of the National Institute of Health Policy.