Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Why we will never have universal health care, Part Four

So in the post just below this one I asked if our misleaders just care less about health care reform than about something else and if so, what would that something be. The graph to the left, put together by noted number-cruncher Nate Silver of, charts the likelihood of a Senator of a given political persuasion supporting the "public option" against the amount of campaign funds they'd received from health insurance PACs since 2004. (He explains his methodology here.)

There is the core of the "something."

As Robert Weiner and Jordan Osserman, writing originally in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, declared,
[t]he opposition to health reform is a tangled web of vested interests with major financial stakes in maintaining the status quo, no matter how broken it is.
Just consider that, as the Washington Examiner reported,
[h]ealth insurers have lavished $41 million in campaign contributions on current members of Congress since 1989, with more than half going to lawmakers on the five House and Senate panels writing this year's health bills, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Since the beginning of 2008 alone, they have spent $145 million on lobbying....
Beyond that, there are additional direct let's call them personal considerations. Weiner and Osserman again:
According to recently published Congressional financial disclosures, 30 key lawmakers involved in health care legislation total nearly $11 million worth of personal investments in the healthcare sector.
And then there are the lobbyists, lobbyists who are so wired into Congress that they may as well have cots in many members' offices. And they are spending lavishly this year to make sure those cots come with a mattress and a couple of pillows.

In just the first quarter of 2009, USA Today said a bit ago, the 20 largest health insurance and drug companies and their associated trade groups had already spent nearly $35 million on lobbying, a 41% increase over 2008 - at a time when overall lobbyist spending was declining. Weiner and Osserman note that
[t]he health care industry [as a whole] is spending $1.4 million dollars per day to lobby against reform, and spent $126 million on lobbying in the first quarter, leading all other groups. Three of every four major health firms hire at least one lobbyist who previously worked for a congressman; 49 of the 136 lobbyists employed by PhRMA are former congressional staffers who retain cozy Hill relationships.
And if you think the "Nope, no lobbyists here, no siree" White House isn't dancing to the same tune, you'd better think again. The leading health insurance company trade group is called America's Health Insurance Plans. As it's head, Karen Ignagni - whose own health plan is to be treated like some kind of state secret - has been a central figure in the lobbying campaign against health reform. In the course of that, she has complained about efforts to "demonize" the industry and has claimed that the public option is actually a means to undermine private companies and replace them with a government program. Despite that, she has been to the White House at least four times this year. (Just out of curiosity, has any single-payer advocate been there even once?)

What's more, the Obama gang is so much in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry that it made
a behind-the-scenes deal to block any Congressional effort to extract cost savings from them beyond an agreed-upon $80 billion.
The Obamaites admitted to the deal - which they had previously denied existed - to "reassure" the industry in light of a House health care bill that would allow the government to negotiate drug prices.

The result of all this, coupled with the insurance industry's tactic of pretending to be for reform by "offering" to "give up" things (like pre-existing condition limitations) so unpopular it's extremely unlikely they could have kept them if they tried, has lead to a point where, according to the LA Times from last week, the industry
is poised to reap a financial windfall.

The half-dozen leading overhaul proposals circulating in Congress would require all citizens to have health insurance, which would guarantee insurers tens of millions of new customers - many of whom would get government subsidies to help pay the companies' premiums.

"It's a bonanza," said Robert Laszewski, a health insurance executive for 20 years who now tracks reform legislation as president of the consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates Inc. ...

Laszewski said the industry's reaction to early negotiations boiled down to a single word: "Hallelujah!"

And that, friends, is what is more important than enacting actual, meaningful, health care reform.

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