"We definitely saw the problem," said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, who ran the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2009 to 2017. "We innovated to try and get a solution. We made really good progress, but it doesn't appear to have resulted in the volume that we needed."Want to understand why a for-profit healthcare delivery system isn't in the public's best interests, especially in times of nationwide health crises? This story can stand as a prima facie example until a better one comes along.
The project " code-named Aura " came in the wake of a parade of near-miss pandemics: SARS, MERS, bird flu and swine flu.
The ventilators were to cost less than $3,000 each. The lower the price, the more machines the government would be able to buy. Companies submitted bids for the Project Aura job. The research agency opted not to go with a large, established device maker. Instead it chose Newport Medical Instruments, a small outfit in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Newport, which was owned by a Japanese medical device company, only made ventilators. Being a small, nimble company, Newport executives said, would help it efficiently fulfill the government's needs. In May 2012, Covidien, a large medical device manufacturer, agreed to buy Newport for just over $100 million.
Newport executives and government officials working on the ventilator contract said they immediately noticed a change when Covidien took over. Developing inexpensive portable ventilators no longer seemed like a top priority.
Government officials and executives at rival ventilator companies said they suspected that Covidien had acquired Newport to prevent it from building a cheaper product that would undermine Covidien's profits from its existing ventilator business.
Some Newport executives who worked on the project were reassigned to other roles. Others decided to leave the company. In 2014, with no ventilators having been delivered to the government, Covidien executives told officials at the biomedical research agency that they wanted to get out of the contract, according to three former federal officials. The executives complained that it was not sufficiently profitable for the company.
The government agreed to cancel the contract.
Capitalism exists to put profits above all else including lives. When all this is over, Americans will find themselves having very hard conversations about how our society best proceed moving forward. And maybe the needs of the living will finally take precedence over the profits of the capitalists.