August 19, 2009
The health care debate-12: Money talks
(For previous posts on the issue of health care, see here.)
Despite all the manifest advantages of the single-payer system, why is it not even discussed seriously in the decision-making bodies of government? To pose the question is to answer it. It is because the current US system is so bad that its supporters must prevent public discussion of obviously better rivals if it is to survive. The current system is the emperor that has no clothes.
Rich and powerful people either benefit directly from money that they get from the private, profit-seeking health industry (like those who work in the industry or the politicians who get big contributions from them) or have the money to get good treatment. It is these same people who protect the interests of the drug and insurance companies by refusing to even consider a single-payer system. These people use fear to keep others in line, raising downright dishonest fears of shortages, queues, rationing, lack of choice, etc if any reform should occur. They have even started upping the ante on their craziness, saying that with health reform we will start killing all old and sick people.
Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of political economy at Princeton University explains who is behind the propaganda:
Most Americans, first of all, are bombarded with propaganda. You don't know how many think tanks are paid by certain industry — insurance, drug, organized medicine — to feed out negative stories about the Canadian health system. They do of course have mishaps, as do we, but there is a whole industry collecting them and beaming them out here. That is one.
Secondly, people are always more comfortable culturally with whatever they have than with some other system.
Third, people imagine having the worst illness, and if you are really very sick in the U.S., you generally do have more hope than in any other country if you are very sick, particularly if you are well insured. But if you sort of live the average life of Americans and have a Canadian system, they have better primary care, easier access to it. They would never go bankrupt over health care, because they don't do that up there. They would realize what they are missing here.
Bloomberg reports that there are 3,300 health care lobbyists who have spent $263.4 million on lobbying during the first six months of 2009, getting their data from the Center for Responsive Politics which is monitoring the spending.
Uber-statistician Nate Silver, who did such an incredible job during the last election of analyzing the polling data, has done a statistical analysis of where politicians stand with respect to the public option and how that correlates with the amount of support they get from the health industry. He finds (surprise!) that the more they get funded by those special interests, the less supportive they are of the public option.
Take Democratic Senator Max Baucus from Montana, chair of the Senate Finance Committee and one who has fought strenuously to keep single-payer out of the debate and scuttle any genuine effort at reform. As NPR reports:
Paul Blumenthal, a writer for the nonpartisan watchdog the Sunlight Foundation, mapped Baucus' network of influence. (You can see the "Baucus influence map" at left).
"We have Max Baucus, who represents a single node, as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee," Blumenthal explains. On his computer screen, lines radiate from Baucus to five of his former Senate staffers. Two of them served as chief of staff to Baucus, the top job in his Senate office.
All five now lobby Congress for various interests. Among their clients: drugmakers Wyeth, Merck, Amgen and AstraZeneca, plus the third-largest corporation in the world, Wal-Mart.
When Baucus ran for his sixth term last year, his campaign raised $11.6 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Nearly half of the funds came from out-of-state donors, including millions from health care and other industries overseen by Finance and Baucus' other committees.
Just 5 percent of Baucus' re-election funds came from Montana donors."
Baucus courts these inside-the-Beltway donors by inviting them to Montana for weekend getaways — skis and snowmobiles in February, fly fishing and golf in June, and coming up on July 31, "Camp Baucus," which is billed as "a trip for the whole family."
Tickets start at $2,500.
So as Baucus and other lawmakers attempt to craft a bill that can smash through a virtual gridlock of interests, the awkward question lingers: To whom are they more attentive — their voting constituencies back home or the dollar constituencies who are at the Capitol every day?
Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle's nomination to be Obama's secretary of Health and Human Services was scuttled by some tax and ethics questions. While I felt that his ethics problems were nowhere as severe as (say) Tim Geithner's who was approved because he was favored by Wall Street interests, I was glad that he did not get the position because I knew that he was totally in the pockets of the health industry lobby. Sure enough, he later came out against the public option.
Of all the presidential candidates in the Democratic and Republican primaries in the last election, only Dennis Kucinich supports single payer. The House Committee on Education and Labor that he chairs, by a vote of 25-19, has "approved an amendment to the House's health-care reform bill allowing states to create single-payer health care systems if they so choose." He is also one of the 86 co-sponsors of John Conyers' House Resolution 676 that seeks to expand Medicare coverage for all, and is a worthy step towards an eventual single-payer system. The summary of the legislation can be read here.
POST SCRIPT: Hypocrisy on health care
It is becoming increasingly clear that opponents of health care reform are willing to say anything at all, even if it means directly contradicting themselves.
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