Recently, I came across an Op Ed entitled Health Reform Requires Listening to Doctors. The very title suggests that physicians and the health care system in general don’t have much of a voice in the discussion of health care legislation.
The question struck me – can that really be true? If the medical profession and health care industry are crying “poor us,” as the Op Ed author would suggest, that’s rather disingenuous at best. It’s well-known in today’s world of American politics that one sure way to have a voice is to hire a lobbyist. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, over $1 billion was spent on lobbying related to health care in 2009 and 2010. Who were the big players and payers in the hiring of lobbyists?
CNN Money tells the tale of the tape:
[L]obbyists for 1,251 organizations disclosed that they worked on health care reform in 2009 and 2010, according to the center and an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation. The number of individual lobbyists who reported working on health related legislation last year hit 3,154 in 2010.
Big Pharma topped the list. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent $22 million and deployed an army of no fewer than 52 lobbyists, according to the center.
Yet another source, iWatchnews.org, reports the following:
A Center for Public Integrity analysis of Senate lobbying disclosure forms shows that more than 1,750 companies and organizations hired about 4,525 lobbyists — eight for each member of Congress — to influence health reform bills in 2009.
Among industries, 207 hospitals lined up to lobby, followed by 105 insurance companies and 85 manufacturing companies. Trade, advocacy, and professional organizations trumped them all with 745 registered groups that lobbied on health reform bills, illustrating the common Washington strategy of special interests banding together to pool money and increase their influence.
Seems like a whole lot of money was spent by the health care industry to have a voice.
This blog, however, is not intended to address issues relating to the Obama Health Care Reform (or as it is referred to in some circles as ObamaCare). I don’t claim to understand the in’s and out’s of that political football. I’ll leave that for the so-called pundits to address. What does strike me, however, is the travesty that recently played out in the setting of a threatened federal government shutdown.
Health Care Reform – the goal of the President’s Plan
What was the stated purpose and goals of the President’s health care reform? Look no further than the online posting by the White House for the answer:
Health reform makes health care more affordable, holds insurers more accountable, expands coverage to all Americans and makes our health system sustainable.
Sounds good in principle, right? Putting aside all the politics, rancor and ranting surrounding the debate over the specifics of health care reform, don’t you find it rather ironic that when recent budget cuts to avoid a government shutdown were the topic du jour, those who had very little, if any, voice were the people who desperately need can’t afford health care?
Recent Budget Cuts and Who Paid the Price
As I learned last week, when the back room deals were struck, those without a voice were the victims of political expediency.
As our own Jason Penn reported in his blog post, Budget Crisis Avoided, But What About the Babies? Can They Live With $504 Million Less in Funding?:
At the 11th hour, cuts were made, backroom deals were struck, and Washington spoke: there will be $38 billion dollars trimmed from the federal budget. On a positive note, federal agencies will remain operational until the end of September. Reason to cheer? Maybe. Before we break out the party hats and noise makers, let’s take a look at how healthcare fared. The following areas are among those cut:
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC): $504 million
- Community Health Centers: $600 million
- Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration: $45 million
- Infectious Disease prevention: $277 million
Total: $1.426 Billion. Yes, billion, with a “B”!
Isn’t the answer of who does and who does not have a voice in the bigger picture of health care legislation and so-called fiscal reform self-evident. Who was there in the back rooms of our hallowed halls of Congress protecting those in need of good primary care programs? I suspect that when it’s crunch time, political expedience wins the day. Need cuts to keep a bloated beast alive and floundering? Snatch it from the ones who will be heard the least – the ones who don’t have the ability to spend over $500,000,000 a year for lobbyists so they can have their voice heard.
As Written in the Book of Isaiah the Prophet…
Apparently it’s just “politics as usual.” For all the rhetoric about making primary health care available to all Americans and improving and sustaining programs to deliver critical healthcare to those who need it the most, the voice crying in the wilderness was not loud enough. Maybe, as the Op Ed author claims, everything the medical profession and health care industry has to say is not being heard or at least being accepted. Nevertheless, they have a voice, which is more than can be said for those they claim they want to protect. How many of the enormous lobbying dollars did the medical community and health care industry spend to protect primary care programs from the budget-cutting ax? I suspect we all know the answer.
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