Saturday, May 23, 2009

Article(s) Of The Week

Were I New Age-inclined, I would say that Paul Krugman, writing the column "Blue Double Cross" on the op-ed pages of The New York Times, was channeling Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, co-authors of "Rx and the single payer," posted on on May 22, 2009. Or more likely, Moyers and Winship channeling Krugman.

Moyers and Winship reviewed the opposition in the Carter and Clinton White Houses to warn of the obstacles facing President Obama and the Democratic Congress in their current effort to get legislative approval of health care reform. The private sector, Moyes-Winship state, promised to cut costs voluntarily, persuading the Administration to back down from its bid to force lower costs on the industry which, not surprisingly, continued to rise. And when the Clintons broached the idea of reform, they were bludgeoned by, Moyers-Winship note, "the most expensive and deceiful public relations and advertising campaigns ever coneived- paid for, of course, from the industry's swollen profits."

And now? On May 11, the Administration announced that, as Krugman notes, "major players in health care had come together to support a national effort to control health care costs." Since then, Moyers-Winship observed, both the chairman of the lobbying group America's Health Insurance Plans and the chief executive of Eli Lilly have publicly suggested to their colleagues that the industry can control costs on their own without government involvement.

Worse yet, Harry and Louise (or a variation thereof) are back, in the form of an ad campaign initiated by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. The ads feature the chairman of Conservatives for Patients' Rights, Rick Scott, apparently a former health care entrepreneur, who, Moyers-Winship explain

took two hospitals in Texas and built them into the largest healthcare chain in the world, Columbia/HCA. In 1997, he was fired by the board of directors after Columbia/HCA was caught in a scheme that ripped off the feds and state governments for hundreds of millions of dollars in bogus Medicare and Medicaid payments, the largest such fraud in history. The company had to cough up $1.7 billion to get out of the mess. Rick Scott (reportedly) waltzed away with a $10 million severance deal and $300 million worth of stock.

But if the authors of both pieces understand fully the improbability that the health care industry will prove any more cooperative now than in previous Democratic presidencies, Moyers-Winship conclude on a more optimistic note. They quote the president of the California Nurses Assoication and National Nurses Organizing Committee, which recently led a march (video below) in Washington for single-payer care. While Moyers-Winship rightly quote Illinois State Senator advocating (video way below) a single-payer system in 2003, Krugman effectively, and helpfully, recalls the Democratic primary campaign and lays down a challenge for President Obama:

But what if interest groups showed up at the big table, then blocked reform? Back then, Mr. Obama assured voters that he would get tough: “If those insurance companies and drug companies start trying to run ads with Harry and Louise, I’ll run my own ads as president. I’ll get on television and say ‘Harry and Louise are lying.’ ”

The question now is whether he really meant it.

The medical-industrial complex has called the president’s bluff. It polished its image by showing up at the big table and promising cooperation, then promptly went back to doing all it can to block real change. The insurers and the drug companies are, in effect, betting that Mr. Obama will be afraid to call them out on their duplicity.

It’s up to Mr. Obama to prove them wrong.

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