Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 29, 2009


Ralph Nader - At a meeting on July 7 at the White House between drug company executives, Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), the industry, according to The New York Times, was promised that the final legislative package would not allow the reimportation of cheaper medicines from Canada or other countries even if they meet our drug safety standards.

Since these industry meetings at the White House are private, no one knows how many other concessions were made. What is known is that Barack Obama knows better. A former supporter of single payer health insurance (often described as full Medicare for all with free choice of physician and hospital and the elimination of hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate administrative costs and billing fraud), then-Illinois state senator Barack Obama predicted, in 2003, that it would be enacted once Congress and the White House were controlled by Democrats. Well, that is now the situation, but, as President, he believes single payer is not "practical". . .

Fuzzy proposals, regularly altered and over-complicated due to the hordes of avaricious corporate lobbyists, make politicians like Obama very susceptible to lurid descriptions and lies by his vocal, well-insured opponents. . .

John Geyman, Physicians for a National Health Plan - Medicare on its 44th birthday is remarkably successful. It's the one solid rock we have in our disjointed healthcare system. It covers 43 million Americans age 65 and older as well as some 2 million disabled people. It is consistently rated more highly than private insurance in terms of reliability and quality of coverage. It provides a comprehensive set of benefits, free choice of providers and hospitals anywhere in the country, and simplified administration with an overhead of only 3 percent -- versus administrative overhead and profit-taking five to nine times larger for private insurers.

Medicare was passed in 1965 after a fierce political debate even more divisive than the one we're having now. Those opposed to reform today are saying that a government program will get between you and your doctor. But traditional unprivatized Medicare shows that to be untrue -- less bureaucracy than that of the private insurance industry, with its more than 1,300 insurers working hard to cherry pick the market for their maximal revenue by denying claims or even canceling coverage.

Despite its successes, Medicare is not a perfect program. It would be even more successful were it not for political compromises along the way allowing it to be privatized. A good example is the Medicare legislation of 2003. The problem was soaring prices of prescription drugs. The result has been a bonanza for the drug and insurance industries. The new drug benefit was handed over to the private sector to manage, prices have continued up unabated, the government was prohibited from negotiating lower prices as the Veterans Administration does, and new subsidies were offered to private insurers for Medicare Advantage, private Medicare plans that seek out healthier Medicare beneficiaries.

The same forces are at work today as healthcare reform proposals make their way through Congress. Under pressure from industry and their lobbyists, the public plan has been watered down to a small and ineffectual option at best, if it ever survives to being enacted. But the strengths of traditional Medicare as a system of social insurance, coupled with a private delivery system, remains a solid foundation upon which to build a better system in this country in terms of access, affordability, quality, efficiency and reliability.

Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner - Democrats so far this cycle have received $7.3 million in contributions from the health sector, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which is 72 percent more than the GOP's haul. The top two recipients of cash from health sector political action committees are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The top recipient of PAC money from HMOs is Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., lead architect of the House plan. And then there's Baucus, whose coziness with industry lobbyists is legendary. Last election, Obama far outpaced John McCain in contributions from the health sector, HMOs and drugmakers.

But more important than the HMO cash in Democratic coffers may be the underlying dynamic of "must-pass" big-government legislation. Anybody surprised that the industry kidnapped this reform effort needs to learn two rules of lawmaking: First, increasing government always benefits the guy with the best lobbyists. The single largest lobbying entity in Washington is the U.S. Chamber. The most prolific lobbing industry is the drug industry. . .

Second, as Cato Institute fellow Will Wilkinson put it, "the path to corporate welfare is paved with essential legislation." Politically, Obama simply must pass a bill, lest he look like an ineffective president. The HMOs, drugmakers and the Chamber, on the other hand, can walk away from the table - sure, the "reforms" may offer billions in subsidies, but if nothing passes, they'll do fine.

Obama's got less leverage than industry, and the drug makers have made it clear they have at least $100 million to spend on ads about this bill - whether they are for the bill or against it depends on its final shape. If Obama wins this "battle of Waterloo," the Left's earnest reformers may find it a Pyrrhic victory.


Blogger robbie said...

There will be no meaningful health care reform. There are still Democraps and Repukes afoot.

July 30, 2009 8:28 AM  

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