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Health Care In America: Pay To Play Isn’t Working…For Anyone

At a time when the bean counters on Wall Street are finding the health insurance industry a bad risk, I have to ask how much longer the Beltway crowd is going to keep looking the other way.

According to this CJR report, regarding a series of studies from Health Care Week and other industry groups, the health care industry, drug manufacturers and other related industry groups are doing everything they can to insure there are no changes to their current profit margins:

The insurance companies, of course, think the system is just fine, and they spent heavily to keep the status quo. Health Plan Week, an insurance industry trade pub, took a hard look, revealing that overall health insurance payments to lobbyists soared last year and are likely to grow again in the next couple of years as health reform becomes the biggest issue. A large percentage of that money, the magazine found, was focused on the Medicare Advantage issue, which was front and center last year. Analyzing disclosure forms from the Senate’s public records office, Health Plan Week found that fifteen health plans paid lobbyists more than $22 million in 2007, up from $18 million in 2006, a hefty chunk of change by any measure. WellCare Health Plans, a big seller of Medicare Advantage products that has gotten in trouble with regulators for its questionable sales practices, quadrupled its spending to $320,000 and paid half of that amount to the Washington law firm to plead its case on Medicare issues. Health Net and Tufts Health Plan more than doubled their spending, while insurance biggies like CIGNA and UnitedHealth Group substantially increased their lobbying budgets. Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans spent nearly $10 million….

A press release just issued by the Center for Responsive Politics further reinforces the money and health care story. Its message: Special interests spent $17 million for every day Congress was in session, and the drug industry spent most of all, paying lobbyists 25 percent more than they did last year. Did Harry Reid forget to mention them? Drug companies spent some $227 million on lobbying activities. The insurance industry was right behind with $138 million, and not far down was the hospital and nursing home industry, which spent some $91 million. When the Center pulled apart spending by organization, Pharma, the American Medical Association, and the American Hospital Association ranked three, four, and five on its list of top spenders. It’s too bad that the Center’s latest numbers haven’t gotten more press. For they, too show, the rocky path ahead for health reform.

It’s easy for reporters and editors to dismiss yet another press release about gobs of money thrown at politicians and lobbyists. We’ve seen that before, they say; what else is new? And it’s easy to cop out and blame readers for stumbling over the big numbers anyway. But the big numbers tell a big story. It’s crucial to remind the public of the intersection of money, lobbyists, Congress, and the presidential candidates. “It’s a constitutional right to petition your government, but the average citizen is not doing this petitioning,” says Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics. “The average person’s lobbyist is the elected official sent to Washington.” But, he adds, “Those officials are listening to the outsiders who are doing the petitioning.” The Constitution may guarantee lobbying, but it doesn’t say Congress has to listen to big money. The press needs to shine a light on just who is listening to whom.

Would that I were confident that the light would shine on this — a big, fat spotlight. Because the folks waiting outside the gate in Knoxville, TN — the 400 hundred Americans who got turned away from any care in the above YouTube — they’ve got very little to hope for from a government that doesn’t seem to care for them at all.

And if one of those folks who was turned away has some catastrophic contagion? Well, then I guess we’re all in for a world of shit when it spreads around the country, aren’t we?

You think just because you have health insurance that things are rosy for you? It’s a small world, getting even smaller all the time as various pathogens fly around on airplanes from one continent to the next. That person coughing beside you on the subway or the bus or in that meeting this morning? If they don’t have access to decent health care — and they have a highly contagious nasty ick? That next superbug headline case could be yours.

Health care isn’t just about prenatal care and cancer exams, although both are very important. It’s also about vaccines and control of dangerous contagions. And we don’t have a handle on any of this because we’ve put profit ahead of care (YouTube)…way ahead. Think it can’t be you? Think again

(YouTube — 60 Minutes.)

UPDATE:  Elizabeth Edwards has a health care op-ed worth reading today. 

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com