Pressmaster via shutterstock

We’re spending far too much on health care, and getting far too little in return.

We live in a country with some of the best hospitals, nurses, doctors and medical technology in the world — but our health care system is riddled with perverse incentives that jack up costs for consumers without improving the quality of care. To make matters worse, it can be hard, if not impossible, for patients to compare costs or search out better health care value. The result: We're spending far too much on health care and getting far too little in return.

Our campaigns

Fair Rx Drug Prices: Americans spent almost $370 billion on prescription drugs in 2019. To get health care costs under control, we need to tackle the high cost of prescription drugs, and we should start by preventing pharmaceutical companies from manipulating the market. Many of these companies are abusing patent laws to keep low-cost generic drugs off the market — drugs that could save Americans billions of dollars a year. We’re advocating for greater enforcement by regulators to prevent abuses of drug patent laws and greater collaboration between agencies to oversee the drug marketplace and its pricing policies.

End Surprise Medical Bills: Far too often, getting medical treatment in America means coming home with a big bill, ending up with a surprise charge, or in some cases facing a mountain of debt. Unpaid medical bills have become the largest portion of debt that Americans owe to collection companies. In 2021, more than half of Americans carry medical debt. Surprise medical bills contibuted to that debt because 1 in 5 patients who visited an ER or got surgery found themselves stuck with a out-of-network charge they couldn't avoid. Those bills could sometimes total thousands of dollars. We’re collaborating with state regulators to end surprise medical bills by fully enforcing a new federal law, the No Surprises Act, which bans the practice of sending surprise bills for most out-of-network services. We’re campaigning to close a loophole in that law which allows ground ambulance services to continue to send surprise bills to patients who use them. And for patients facing a pile of medical bills that could drive them into debt, we’re pushing for state and federal laws to give them enough time to sort out complex medical billing problems. We’re also working to protect patients from aggressive debt collection which could result in poor credit and put their financial future at risk.

Watchdogging the health care marketplace: Health care is big business, and investment by private equity firms and consolidation of medical services can lead to both increased costs and lower-quality care for consumers. Mergers and acquisitions among hospitals and physician practices can increase their share of market power, which decreases competition and allows them to keep prices high or drive them even higher. Providers acquired by private-equity firms often have higher operating margins — meaning both uninsured and insured patients will likely pay more for the same care as providers which aren’t owned by these firms. That’s why we’re watchdogging health care mergers, acquisitions and private investments. And where we see changes in the marketplace that could be bad for consumers, we’re calling for greater enforcement of antitrust laws and prosecution of anticompetitive practices.

Top left screenshot from Spectrum News 1, other photos taken by staff
The PIRG approach

Each PIRG health care campaign or project aims to ensure that our health care system delivers the high value care we deserve, and each shares a common approach to making change. Our efforts strive to:

Put the public interest first. American health care is respected worldwide — we’re global innovators in treatments and cures. But if our prices continue to skyrocket, and the value we get continues to lag behind, we won’t see the return on our investment and our health will suffer.

Take a strategic approach. We must think big and act boldly, while at the same time recognizing that progress comes one step at a time. Our focus is on making a difference in public policy and in our lives, not just making a statement.

Build on what works. We have a track record of winning policies, actions and decisions that have resulted in reduced health care costs and better health care outcomes. We know which policies work, how they can be improved, and what it takes to win their approval. But as always, we’re also open to new ideas that work even better.

Work together. We work to unite people from all across the political spectrum around commonsense health care solutions. Everyone, regardless of party affiliation, wants their health care dollar to deliver the best outcome possible. Our advocates in Washington, D.C., lobby members of Congress from both parties. Our advocates in the states build coalitions that include doctors and nurses, religious leaders and educators, and people from all walks of life. Our organizers and canvassers engage hundreds of thousands of people, and our members and activists live in all 50 states.

Help bring down skyrocketing drug costs

Americans pay two to three times as much as people in other countries for the same medicines. One solution is to give the federal government the power to negotiate the price of drugs for Medicare, and extend those negotiated lower prices to the private insurance market as well. Tell Congress to put an end to high-cost drugs and allow negotiation for drug prices.