Depending how you feel about corporate executives’ using government and the news media to manipulate the public and line their own pockets, you’ll either be impressed or disgusted with a recent op-ed in the Providence Journal penned by Claflin Co. CEO Ted Almon. Either way, you have to admit that it takes more than a healthy dose of (let’s be polite) audacity for him to accuse other people of “paid… agitprop” when his company has received tens of millions of dollars from the government agency that he’s defending and stands to receive tens of millions more.
In this regard, Ted Almon’s Claflin Co. is a veritable poster company for a system of government run by insiders and for insiders, selling government handouts at others’ expense.
Anybody who thought Almon’s essay defended the Department of Veterans Affairs based on principle should consider that, in fiscal year 2015 (last October through this September), Claflin did over $16 million of business with the VA. That was up from about $14 million the year before and has been on a more-or-less steady increase since at least 2008, when the total was less than $3 million.
Claflin’s interest in the VA is likely to grow, considering that, as of March, the company had a five-year contract with the agency for “hospital equipment and related services.” Naturally, Claflin is a private business, so its financials don’t appear to be immediately available to the general public, but it’s a safe bet that government healthcare spending represents a growing portion of its revenue.
Indeed, Almon has actively advocated for an expanding role for the state and federal governments in the provision of healthcare, up to and including testimony before the General Assembly. (In case you’re wondering, no, he’s not registered as a lobbyist on the Secretary of State’s Lobby Tracker.) No doubt, he likes his company’s chances of capturing a sizable portion of that business.
With this knowledge, it’s difficult not to laugh when reading Almon declare that, “to function efficiently,” free markets “require very transparent value propositions and broad competition.” And it’s difficult not to cry when the consummate insider goes on to insist that competition in his industry will only “drive up costs rather than reducing them.”
To the contrary, competition alleviates the challenge of “very transparent value propositions,” because it becomes in companies’ interest to deliver more value for lower prices in order to capture market share, at least when there isn’t a government-managed cartel. What’s driving up costs in healthcare is the disconnect between the payment and the consumer. Almon’s government-centric approach makes that disconnect bigger, not smaller, and relies on the good intentions of politicians and corporations.
Of course, nobody should believe that the CEO of a private company sincerely wants less competition for the reason that it will lower prices. If you’re willing to take Almon’s word on his economically absurd claims, I’ve got ownership papers for a chest of golden government stethoscopes at the bottom of Narragansett Bay that I’d happily sell you for a fair price.