People Power Versus Lobbyists in the Health Care Debate
As high profile congressional committees debate Barack Obama's health reform bill in
At the center of the national debate are figures like Max Baucus, head of the powerful Senate Finance committee, who's received more contributions from the health care industry than any other member of congress: $3.9 million since 2003.(1) The same Max Baucus has been hosting $10,000 a head chicken cordon blue dinners for lobbyists in his palatial San Francisco mansion, while average Americans seeking real health care reform protest outside.(2) When doctors and nurses advocating for single payer health care were blacklisted from Baucus' May health care hearings, they stood in silent protest in the gallery and Baucus had them arrested.(3)
Perhaps it wasn't entirely surprising to health care advocates then when the AP reported Monday: "After weeks of secretive talks, three Democrats and three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee were edging closer to a compromise that excludes a requirement many congressional Democrats seek for large businesses to offer coverage to their workers. Nor would there be a provision for a government insurance option, despite Obama's support for such a plan, officials said."(4)
There is a certain irony in the fact that Senators who have tax payer-subsidized universal health care are stripping the health care reform bill of a public insurance option. Meanwhile, a recent NY Times/CBS poll found 72 percent of Americans favor a public option.(5)
A world away from this pay-for-access system of influence auctioning, the state of
Buttressing Richter is a recent report from the NY Times which found that "an estimated three-quarters of people who are pushed into personal bankruptcy by medical problems actually had insurance when they got sick or were injured."(6) As for the prospects of the House and Senate crafting a policy solution, Dr. Richter says, "I don't expect this [public option] to solve the problem if this isn't going to be implemented until 2013, this is going to be a calamity."
Asked for her critique of the debate happening inside
Health Care is a Human Right
On May 1st of this year Richter spoke at a Health Care is a Human Right rally of approximately 1,000 people at the Statehouse in
"There is so much suffering and there is so much injustice that we are going to keep organizing our tails off until we can win in Vermont and hopefully show other states," Haslam said in a recent interview. "But it's going to have to come from people organizing in their communities and in their neighborhoods, it's definitely not going to come from any charismatic politician that just gets our votes and is going to try and work magic with these millionaire health care lobbyists." The Vermont Worker's Center strategy includes "holding public accountability forums with legislators in every place we can," and gathering thousands of constituent postcards to deliver on the first day of the legislative session. Haslam says the campaign seeks to demonstrate "that there's more people out there that believe in fundamental change than there are that believe in continuing with the status quo or tinkering with a broken system."
Profits at Any Cost
While the Max Baucus' of the world debate in gilded marble halls with lobbyists and CEOs, the direness of the American health care crisis worsens unabated. According to the L.A. Times, a Los Angeles hospital settled out of court for dumping more than 150 mentally ill patients from their hospital beds onto the steps of Skid Row homeless shelters in 2007 and 2008.(8) In order to maximize their profits, hospitals have created a globalized world version of patient dumping. According to the NY Times "Many American hospitals are taking it upon themselves to repatriate [deport] seriously injured or ill immigrants because they cannot find nursing homes willing to accept them without insurance…The hospitals are operating in a void, without governmental assistance or oversight, leaving ample room for legal and ethical transgressions on both sides of the border."(9)
Senator Sanders writes that the prognosis hasn't been dire for everyone. "From 2003 to 2007, the combined profits of the nation's major health insurance companies increased by 170 percent. And, while more and more Americans are losing their jobs and health insurance, the top executives in the industry are receiving lavish compensation packages. It's not just William McGuire, the former head of United Health, who several years ago accumulated stock options worth an estimated $1.6 billion or Cigna CEO Edward Hanway who made more than $120 million in the last five years. The reality is that CEO compensation for the top seven health insurance companies now averages $14.2 million."
Even the very media, who are supposed to be reporting critically on the legislative process surrounding health care reform, has tried to rake in the massive profits by selling access to the right influential politicians. The Washington Post was scheduled to host $25,000 a person "salon" to bring together lobbyists and health care CEO's with the very policy makers drafting the health care bill.(10)
Besides Baucus, other high profile Democrats have also lent their names to the cause of maximizing Big Pharmaceutical, Insurance, and HMO's profits at the expense of real reform. "It’s kind of a give-and-take, quid pro quo kind of environment," said Tom Daschle, President Obama's initial choice for health secretary, who still serves as an advisor to the Obama administration on health care policy. "I think that the stakeholders [the Health Care Industry] wouldn’t do this if they didn’t think there was something in it for them."(11) One of Obama's closest advisers, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, in a Wall Street Journal interview, stated, "It is more important that health-care legislation inject stiff competition among insurance plans than it is for Congress to create a pure government-run option."(12)
The Road Forward
When asked about the trajectory for health care reform in
As for Max Baucus, Obama, and the fight for meaningful health care reform on the national level, a much anticipated piece of the bill from Baucus' Finance Committee is expected this week.
Meanwhile, nine more health care activists, including doctors and an 11-year-old girl, and were arrested Monday, in a
Whether or not the powerful Max Baucus will listen remains to be seen.
1. Center for Responsive Politics - Top 20 Industries contributing to Campaign Committee and Leadership PAC
2. Industry Cash Flowed To Drafters of Reform
3. Baucus Healthcare Plan: Arrest Doctors, Nurses
4. Top House Democrats struggling on health care bill
5. In Poll, Wide Support for Government-Run Health
6. Insured, but Bankrupted by Health Crises
7. Health Care is a Right, Not a Privilege
9. Immigrants Facing Deportation by
10. Washington Post cancels $25,000 "salon" with lobbyists
11. Health Deals Could Harbor Hidden Costs
12. White House Open to Deal on Public Health Plan
13. Nine arrested in demonstration at Wellmark