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How big money shapes health policy





Health debate distorted by dollars:

Legal payoffs and policy paybacks

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With public support for a single-payer plan consistently ranging in the 59% to 67% among both voters in general and among US doctors, many Americans are wondering why such a popular plan is not receiving more serious attention from policymakers in Washington, DC.

 

One obvious explanation is the dependence of elected officials on powerful for-profit insurers and other health-industry interests for their campaign contributions.

 

For example, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana), chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, has been a particularly fortunate recipient of the health care’s generosity during his years in Washington. Baucus has publicly stated that the single-payer plan is "off the table" for consideration.

 

 insurance industry: $1,170,313
  Health professionals: $1,016,276
  Pharmaceuticals/health-products industry: $734,605
  Hospitals/nursing homes: $541,891
  Health services/HMOs: $439,700

"That’s almost $4 million from the very industries that have the most to gain or lose from health-care reform," commented Amy Goodman, host of the TV program Democracy Now.

 

Meanwhile, Susan Bayh, the wife of influential right-of-center Evan Bayh (D-IN) sits on the board of directors of the Indianapolis-based WellPoint Insurance corporation, the for-profit insurance industry’s largest firm as measured by membership. For her services on the board of directors, she received $327,000 in 2008 from WellPoint. Even the conservative Indianapolis Star editorialized (5/25/09) that "WellPoint’s future–and thus a significant portion of the Bayhs’ income–could be at risk as the Obama administration and Congress attempt to re-shape the nation’s health-care system."

Susan Bayh, former attorney for the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, sits on an additional six corporate boards. Along with the seat on WellPoint’s board, these positions brought in a total of more than $837,000 in 2007, Bloomberg.com reported. (8/19/08).

Bayh’s conservative stance on health reform was revealed in this 4/12/09 exchange on Fox News with Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: But the one big concern a lot of the private sector has is the president, in his program, has as a — supposedly as a provider of last resort a government program, and the concern is they’ll be able to do it so much more cheaply, or at least in terms of the cost, that everybody will end up in the government program.

BAYH: Well, it’s a debate we need to have, Chris. And I’m agnostic on that as we sit here this morning.

In stating that he is “agnostic” about a public plan, Bayh is essentially aligning himself with Max Baucus (D-MT), who told The Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky in March that he believes health care reform can be accomplished “without” a public plan. “But we may have to have it, [Howard Dean] may be right. Just don’t know yet,”declared Baucus.

On the same show, Bayh accepted unchallenged the notion that "socialized medicine" (government ownership of health care facilities and government employment of doctors and other personnel) is under discussion in the US, as far right-wing Sen. Tom Coburn has alleged:

Bayh: I do agree with Tom, when it comes to health care we don’t want "socialized medicine," but there is an appropriate role for government to expand coverage, to make it more affordable for people who don’t have the means and that actually enables to meet the challenges….

 

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