Journalist goes behind the scenes on healthcare law

Journalist and media entrepreneur Steven Brill offered a two-step solution to America’s healthcare crisis during his hourlong lecture at Northeastern University on Wednesday afternoon.

First, he said, the U.S. government should cut out the middleman and allow hospitals to sell their own health insurance. Then, he said, the government should regulate their profits, with a particular focus on CEO salaries.

This strategy, he explained, would disincentivize hospitals to inflate costs or over-treat, noting that “everyone in healthcare except for doctors and nurses is making way too much money.”

Brill—the founder of Court TV and a frequent contributor to several of the nation’s most prestigious periodicals—discussed healthcare reform before an audience of approximately 100 students, faculty, and staff in 240 Dockser Hall. His lecture was sponsored by University Libraries and the School of Law, whose Program on Health Policy and Law focuses on health law from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Brill’s talk focused on his new book, Americas Bitter Pill, which his publisher described as a “sweeping narrative of how the Affordable Care Act is changing—or failing to change—the rampant abuses in the healthcare industry.”

The book builds on Brill’s 26,000-word story in Time, which won the 2014 National Magazine Award for Public Service and aimed to answer one simple health-policy question: “Why are medical bills so high?”

In his talk on Wednesday, Brill noted that money, politics, and backroom deals have eviscerated any chance of cost control. For example, he pointed to the secret deal between President Barack Obama and Big Pharma, which agreed to support comprehensive healthcare reform only after the president promised not to allow Medicare to import cheaper drugs from Canada.

This lack of regulation, he said, has allowed hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to continue racking up huge profits. In one case, Brill said, a pharmaceutical company manufactured a drug for $300 a pop and then sold it to a hospital for $3,000, which, in turn, charged a patient $13,000.

“It’s good that the Affordable Care Act has extended health coverage to more than 10 million Americans,” Brill said, “but what’s not good is that hospitals and drug companies haven’t changed their prices.”

Indeed, the U.S. now spends more than twice as much per capita on healthcare as the average industrialized nation. As Brill put it, “Healthcare is eating away at our economy.”

In the Q-and-A, one attendee asked Brill to discuss the physical toll of his tackling the U.S. healthcare system. Brill, who underwent open-heart surgery during his reporting, said, “There was no personal cost. I love doing this stuff.”