Monday, July 13, 2009

Politics & Health Care: Both Rotten to the Core

July 13, 2009, 8:00 a.m.

Shameful Performance Should be Required Reading
(brought to you by*)

I'm angry. Really angry. Why do we take this? Why aren't Americans marching on Washington by the millions?

What the sickness industry and our puppet politicians have been demonstrating about the current operation of politics and "health care" in America is shameful. When it's all over, and President Obama proclaims the outcome "a good start," we will all continue to pay more and more, while getting less and less, year after year. The campaign contributions will increase, as will the compensation packages for the sickness industry's CEOs and the proportion of our premiums going to "administration" (already roughly 10 times those for Medicare/Medicaid, or what others countries pay).

Hopefully, after it's over, this shameful chapter of American politics and corporate control will be written up and made required reading for every school child and college student. What a lesson in the "decline and fall of the American empire" (to borrow from Gibbon's title); the control of our mass media; the revolving door phenomenon; the role of lobbyists; the power and use of deliberately misleading industry "talking points" by "their" elected officials and media outlets; the impact of campaign contributions on public policy; the price we pay for our failure to have public funding of campaigns; the willingness of Wall Street, corporate executives and elected officials to knowingly harm the health of the American people (as with the environment, or any other public good) in their drive to increase profits and their own personal power and wealth.

The potential list of references for these assertions of mine is endless, so I'll just provide three or four.

The Washington Post has named names and provided the details on the industry's power, and the former politicians' willingness, to come together in an overwhelming army of well-financed former insiders to swarm over Washington's elected and appointed officials. Dan Eggen and Kimberly Kindy, "Familiar Players in Health Bill Lobbying; Firms Are Enlisting Ex-Lawmakers, Aides," Washington Post, July 6, 2009.

Of course, this story was published after, and possibly as an effort to regain some of the paper's prior reputation before, the publisher was shamed.

How shamed? For the role of the mainstream media in the sickness industry's efforts see, Nicholas Johnson, "Rare Washington Post Apology Misses Mark," July 5, 2009. In case you missed the story, the Post's publisher was caught selling access to her reporters and editors, along with the Obama officials and legislators to whom she has the power to issue command performances, for small, off-the-record dinners at her home. The price tag: $25,000 per sickness industry lobbyist per dinner, or $250,000 for sickness industry lobbyists who feel they'd need a series of such opportunities to guarantee defeat of the "public option." So much for the days and heroes of Watergate fame.

The Nation has reported the formula for calculating how large a campaign contribution it takes to get a Democrat to oppose a "public option" in the bill (notwithstanding the fact that 76% of their constituents want it). Sebastian Jones, "Noted: Health and Wealth," The Nation, July 13, 2009 ("[T]he White House . . . starts at a significant disadvantage, perhaps as large as $1.38 billion. According to the Center for Responsive Politics . . . that's the sum that five industries -- pharmaceuticals/health products, insurance, health services/HMOs, hospitals/nursing homes and health professionals -- spent lobbying lawmakers . . .. Beyond lobbying, hundreds of millions have been spent . . . in campaign contributions . . .. So what does all this money buy? According to Nate Silver . . . the low sum of $60,000 in campaign contributions over the past six years would cut in half the odds of a centrist Democrat supporting [a "public option" in] the plan").

Last week I wrote in the Des Moines Register: "The for-profit marketplace does some things well. Health care's not one of them. We pay more while covering fewer and getting less, with more rapidly increasing costs, than any country on Earth. Insurance companies create the ever-increasing profits Wall Street demands by ever-increasing premiums, denying coverage to some and the legitimate claims of others." See, Nicholas Johnson, "Why GOP Fears Meaningful Health Care," July 8, 2009.

A confession: The statement about Wall Street's involvement, increasing premiums and denial of coverage and claims, was intuition. It just seemed to me when I wrote that it was probably what is going on.

Two days later I had the reassurance of affirmation of my intuition from someone who knows, from the inside, and from the top of the inside, how the sickness industry functions. See, e.g., Trish Nelson, "Insurance Insider Reveals Industry Tactics Intended to Kill Health Care Reform," BlogForIowa, July 12, 2009.

His name is Wendell Potter, a former senior vice president of communications for Cigna, the fourth largest health insurance company in the country -- the single live guest on "Bill Moyers Journal," PBS, July 10, 2009. Here is the the main Moyers' Web site, and the page for the show with Potter (both with lots of additional, related, material and links to more).

It's an absolutely appalling tale he has to tell about Wall Street's pressure on the companies, the companies' refusal to cover some and denying the claims of others, the lobbying efforts, the deliberate misrepresentation of the issues, and the full bore attempt to discredit and marginalize Michael Moore's documentary, "Sicko" -- about which Potter acknowledged, "I thought that he [Moore] hit the nail on the head with his movie." For some reason, this portion of the Moyers' interview was deleted from the PBS and Moyers' sites; it can, however, be found here.

You owe it to yourself to take a look at the portion of the interview that PBS/Moyers does make available, and to check out the other information and links from their sites.

This is a tragic, despicable, shameful story in the history of American capitalism and politics that we all need to understand.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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1 comment:

Nick said...

Notice Regarding Advertising: This blog runs an open comments section. All comments related to blog entries have (so far) remained posted, regardless of how critical. Although I would prefer that those posting comments identify themselves, anonymous comments are also accepted.

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