Tags: allen frances, apa, big pharma, bruce levine, dsm-5, health, mental health, mental illness, over-diagnosis, over-medication, psychiatry, psychiatry history, roger hollander
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The DSM-5 (the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) will be released by the APA in spring 2013. However, Frances states, “My best advice to clinicians, to the press, and to the general public—be skeptical and don’t follow DSM-5 blindly down a road likely to lead to massive over-diagnosis and harmful over-medication.”
For mental health professionals, this advice from the former chair of the DSM-4 taskforce is shocking—almost as if Colin Powell were to advise U.S. defense and state department employees not to blindly follow all administration orders. Particularly upsetting for Frances is the DSM-5’s pathologizing of normal human grief. On Jan. 7, 2013 in “Last Plea To DSM-5: Save Grief From the Drug Companies,” Frances wrote, “Making grief a mental disorder will be a bonanza for drug companies, but a disaster for grievers. The decision is also self-destructive for DSM-5 and further undermines the credibility of the APA. Psychiatry should not be mislabeling the normal.”
In the DSM-4, which Frances helped create, there had been a so-called “bereavement exclusion,” which stated that grieving the loss of a loved one, even when accompanied by symptoms of depression, should not be considered the psychiatric disorder of depression. Prior to the DSM-5, the APA had acknowledged that to have symptoms of depression while grieving the loss of a loved one is normal and not a disease. Come this spring, normal human grief accompanied by depression symptoms will be a mental disorder. Psychiatry’s official diagnostic battle is over. Mental illness gatekeepers such as Frances who are concerned about further undermining the credibility of the APA have lost, and mental illness expansionists —psychiatry’s “neocons”— have won.
Other New DSM-5 Mental Illnesses
The pathologizing of normal human grief is not the only DSM-5 embarrassment for Frances. (See his December 2012 blog: “DSM 5 Is Guide Not Bible—Ignore Its Ten Worst Changes.”) Get ready to hear about a new mental illness diagnosis for kids: “disruptive mood dysregulation disorder” (DMDD). Frances concludes DMDD “will turn temper tantrums into a mental disorder.”
The APA, somewhat embarrassed by the huge increase of children diagnosed with “pediatric bipolar disorder” in the last two decades, wanted to give practitioners a less severe diagnostic option for moody kids. However, Frances’ fear is that DMDD “will exacerbate, not relieve, the already excessive and inappropriate use of medication in young children….DSM 5 should not be adding a new disorder likely to result in a new fad and even more inappropriate medication use in vulnerable children.”
The DSM-5 also brings us “minor neurocognitive disorder”—the everyday forgetting characteristic of old age. For Frances, this will result in huge numbers of misdiagnosed people, a huge false positive population of people who are not at special risk for dementia. And he adds, “Since there is no effective treatment for this ‘condition’ (or for dementia), the label provides absolutely no benefit (while creating great anxiety) even for those at true risk for later developing dementia. It is a dead loss for the many who will be mislabeled.”
“Binge eating disorder” has also now made it to the major leagues as an official DSM-5 mental illness (moving up from a non-official mental illness status in Appendix B in DSM-4). What constitutes binge eating disorder? Frances reports, “Excessive eating 12 times in 3 months is no longer just a manifestation of gluttony and the easy availability of really great tasting food. DSM 5 has instead turned it into a psychiatric illness called binge eating disorder.”
Frances’ “10 Worst Changes” in the DSM-5 also includes the following: “First-time substance abusers will be lumped in definitionally with hardcore addicts despite their very different treatment needs and prognosis and the stigma this will cause.” DSM-5 also introduces us to the concept of “behavioral addictions,” which Frances points out “eventually can spread to make a mental disorder of everything we like to do a lot.” Additionally, Frances reports that “DSM 5 will likely trigger a fad of adult attention-deficit disorder leading to widespread misuse of stimulant drugs for performance enhancement and recreation and contributing to the already large illegal secondary market in diverted prescription drugs.” And Frances adds that “DSM 5 obscures the already fuzzy boundary between generalized anxiety disorder and the worries of everyday life.”
Brief History of the DSM
The first DSM was published in 1952 and lists 106 disorders (initially called “reactions”). DSM-2 was published in 1968, and the number of disorders increased to 182.
Both the first DSM and DSM-2 included homosexuality as a mental illness. In the 1970s, coinciding with the heightened significance of the DSM was the rise of gay activism. Thus, the elimination of homosexuality as a mental illness became the most visible psychiatric-political issue. Gay activists staged protests at American Psychiatric Association conventions. The APA was fiercely divided on this issue, but homosexuality as psychopathology was ultimately abolished and then excluded from the DSM-3, published in 1980.
Though homosexuality was dropped from DSM-3, diagnostic categories were expanded in the DSM-3 to 265, with several child disorders added that would soon become popular, including “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD).
DSM-4, published in 1994, has 297 disorders and over 400 specific mental illness diagnoses. L.J. Davis, in the February 1997 issue of Harper’s, wrote a book review of the DSM-4 titled “The Encyclopedia of Insanity: A Psychiatric Handbook Lists a Madness for Everyone,” wrote that the DSM-4 “is some 886 pages long and weighs (in paperback) slightly less than three pounds; if worn over the heart in battle, it would probably stop a .50-caliber machine-gun bullet at 1,700 yards.”
Mental illness expansionism in the DSM-5 is no laughing matter for Allen Frances who reminds us: “New diagnoses in psychiatry are more dangerous than new drugs because they influence whether or not millions of people are placed on drugs—often by primary care doctors after brief visits.” Though the APA claims that DSM-5 will not significantly add to the DSM-4 total of mental illnesses, by one DSM-5 declaration alone—eliminating the bereavement exclusion to depression—they will have created millions more mentally ill people.
DSM: Dogma or Science?
How exactly do certain human behaviors become a mental illness? It comes down to the opinion of a board of trustees of the American Psychiatric Association. Davis writes in Harper’s, “First, and primarily, the DSM-4 is a book of dogma, though as theology it is pretty pedestrian stuff.”
Is the DSM dogma or, as establishment psychiatry would claim, science?
Two important aspects of a scientific instrument are validityand reliability. DSM scientific validity would mean that behaviors labeled as disorders and illnesses are in fact disorders and illnesses. And DSM reliability would mean that clinicians trained in DSM criteria agree on a diagnosis.
One historical example, a century before the first DSM, of a clearly invalid mental illness is drapetomania. Louisiana physician Samuel A. Cartwright was certain he had discovered a new mental disease. After studying runaway slaves who had been caught and returned to their owners, Cartwright concluded in an 1851 report to the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal that these slaves suffered from drapetomania, a disease causing them to flee.
While virtually all psychiatrists today rightfully mock the idea that fleeing slavery could be considered a valid mental illness, it was not until the 1970s that cultural upheaval and political protests persuaded the APA of the invalidity of homosexuality as a mental illness.
And while homosexuality was dropped from the 1980 DSM-3, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) was added, and ODD is now a popular child and adolescent diagnosis. The symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.” Is it any more valid to label teenage rebellion and anti-authoritarianism as a mental illness than it is to label runaway slaves as mentally ill?
Even if you believe that oppositional defiant disorder and all the other DSM disorders are in fact valid mental illnesses, for them to be considered scientific, they have to be able to be reliably diagnosed.
In a landmark 1973 study reported in Science, David Rosenhan sought to discover if psychiatry could distinguish between “normals” and those so “psychotic” they needed to be hospitalized. Eight pseudopatients were sent to 12 hospitals, all pretending to have this complaint: hearing empty and hollow voices with no clear content. All pseudopatients were able to fool staff and get hospitalized. More troubling, immediately after admission, the pseudopatients stated the voices had disappeared and they behaved as they normally would but none were immediately released. The length of their hospitalizations ranged from seven to 52 days, with an average of 19 days, each finally discharged diagnosed with “schizophrenia in remission.”
Psychiatry was embarrassed by Rosenhan and other critics and knew if the DSM wasn’t fixed, they would continue to be mocked as a science. The 1980 DSM-3 was dramatically altered to have concrete behavioral checklists and formal decision-making rules, which psychiatry hoped would solve its diagnostic reliability problem. But did it?
Herb Kutchins and Stuart A. Kirk are coauthors of two books investigating this claim of “new and improved” reliability of the DSM-3 and DSM-4: The Selling of DSM: Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry (1992), and Making Us Crazy, DSM: The Psychiatric Bible and the Creation of Mental Disorders(1997).
Kutchins and Kirk detail a major 1992 study done to examine the reliability of the supposedly new and improved DSM-3. This reliability study was conducted at six sites in the United States and one in Germany. Experienced mental health professionals were given extensive training in how to make accurate DSM diagnoses. Following this training, pairs of clinicians interviewed nearly 600 prospective patients. Because of the extensive training, Kutchins and Kirk note, “We would expect that diagnostic agreement would be considerably lower in normal clinical settings.” The results showed that the reliability of the DSM-3—even with this special training—was not superior to the earlier unreliable editions of DSM, and in some cases it was worse. Kutchins and Kirk summarize:
What this study demonstrated was that even when experienced clinicians with special training and supervision are asked to use DSM and make a diagnosis, they frequently disagree, even though the standards for defining agreement are very generous….[For example,] if one of the two therapists….made a diagnosis of Schizoid Personality Disorder and the other therapist selected Avoidant Personality Disorder, the therapists were judged to be in complete agreement of the diagnosis because they both found a personality disorder—even though they disagreed completely on which one!…Mental health clinicians independently interviewing the same person in the community are as likely to agree as disagree that the person has a mental disorder and are as likely to agree as disagree on which of the…DSM disorders is present.
Kutchins and Kirk report there is not a single major study showing high reliability in any version of the DSM, including the DSM-4.
Is there any good news about the DSM-5? The APA just announced that its price for the DSM-5 will be $199 a copy, and this is good news for Allen Frances who reacted: “People are not likely to rush out to buy a ridiculously expensive DSM-5 that has already been discredited as unsafe and scientifically unsound…The good news is that its lowered sales and lost credibility will limit the damage that can be done by DSM-5.”
Tags: alcohol industry, beer industry, big pharma, decriminalization, drugs, for profit prisons, lee fang, legalization, marijuana, marijuana prohibition, pharmaceutical corporations, police unions, prison guards, private prisons, roger hollander, war on drugs
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Last year, over 850,000 people in America were arrested for marijuana-related crimes. Despite public opinion, the medical community, and human rights experts all moving in favor of relaxing marijuana prohibition laws, little has changed in terms of policy.
There have been many great books and articles detailing the history of the drug war. Part of America’s fixation with keeping the leafy green plant illegal is rooted in cultural and political clashes from the past.
However, we at Republic Report think it’s worth showing that there are entrenched interest groups that are spending large sums of money to keep our broken drug laws on the books:
1.) Police Unions: Police departments across the country have become dependent on federal drug war grants to finance their budget. In March, we published a story revealing that a police union lobbyist in California coordinated the effort to defeat Prop 19, a ballot measure in 2010 to legalize marijuana, while helping his police department clients collect tens of millions in federal marijuana-eradication grants. And it’s not just in California. Federal lobbying disclosures show that other police union lobbyists have pushed for stiffer penalties for marijuana-related crimes nationwide.
2.) Private Prisons Corporations: Private prison corporations make millions by incarcerating people who have been imprisoned for drug crimes, including marijuana. As Republic Report’s Matt Stoller noted last year, Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest for-profit prison companies, revealed in a regulatory filing that continuing the drug war is part in parcel to their business strategy. Prison companies have spent millions bankrolling pro-drug war politicians and have used secretive front groups, like the American Legislative Exchange Council, to pass harsh sentencing requirements for drug crimes.
3.) Alcohol and Beer Companies: Fearing competition for the dollars Americans spend on leisure, alcohol and tobacco interests have lobbied to keep marijuana out of reach. For instance, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors contributed campaign contributions to a committee set up to prevent marijuana from being legalized and taxed.
4.) Pharmaceutical Corporations: Like the sin industries listed above, pharmaceutical interests would like to keep marijuana illegal so American don’t have the option of cheap medical alternatives to their products. Howard Wooldridge, a retired police officer who now lobbies the government to relax marijuana prohibition laws, told Republic Report that next to police unions, the “second biggest opponent on Capitol Hill is big PhRMA” because marijuana can replace “everything from Advil to Vicodin and other expensive pills.”
5.) Prison Guard Unions: Prison guard unions have a vested interest in keeping people behind bars just like for-profit prison companies. In 2008, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association spent a whopping $1 million to defeat a measure that would have “reduced sentences and parole times for nonviolent drug offenders while emphasizing drug treatment over prison.”
RELATED: Why Can’t You Smoke Pot? Because Lobbyists Are Getting Rich Off of the War on Drugs
The Real Health Care Debate April 9, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: affordable care, big pharma, chris hedges, constitution, health, health care, heritage foundation, individual mandate, insurance industry, massachusetts health, medicare, medicare-for-all, mitt romney, obamacare, pharmaceutical industry, roger hollander, single payer, universal health
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Published on Monday, April 9, 2012 by Truthdig
The debate surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act illustrates the impoverishment of our political life. Here is a law that had its origin in the right-wing Heritage Foundation, was first put into practice in 2006 in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Mitt Romney and was solidified into federal law after corporate lobbyists wrote legislation with more than 2,000 pages. It is a law that forces American citizens to buy a deeply defective product from private insurance companies. It is a law that is the equivalent of the bank bailout bill—some $447 billion in subsidies for insurance interests alone—for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. It is a law that is unconstitutional. And it is a law by which President Barack Obama, and his corporate backers, extinguished the possibilities of both the public option and Medicare for all Americans. There is no substantial difference between Obamacare and Romneycare. There is no substantial difference between Obama and Romney. They are abject servants of the corporate state. And if you vote for one you vote for the other.
But you would never know this by listening to the Democratic Party and the advocacy groups that purport to support universal health care but seem more intent on re-electing Obama. It is the very sad legacy of the liberal class that it proves in election cycle after election cycle that it espouses moral and political positions it will not pay a price to defend. And since we have no fight in us, since we will not punish politicians like Obama who betray our core beliefs, the corporate juggernaut rolls forward with its inexorable pace to cement into place our global neofeudalism.
Protesting outside the Supreme Court recently as it heard arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act were both conservatives from Americans for Prosperity who denounced the president as a socialist and demonstrators from Democratic front groups such as the SEIU and the Families USA health care consumer group who chanted “Protect the law!” Lost between these two factions were a few stalwarts who hold quite different views, including public health care advocates Dr. Margaret Flowers, Dr. Carol Paris and attorneys Oliver Hall, Kevin Zeese and Russell Mokhiber. They displayed a banner that read: “Single Payer Now! Strike Down the Obama Mandate!” They, at least, have not relinquished the demand for single payer health care for all Americans. And I throw my lot in with these renegades, dismissed, no doubt, as cranks or dreamers or impractical by those who flee into the embrace of empty political theater and junk politics. These single payer advocates, joined by 50 doctors, filed a brief to the court that challenges, in the name of universal health care, the individual mandate.
“We have the solution, we have the resources and we have the money to provide lifelong, comprehensive, high-quality health care to every person,” Dr. Flowers said when we spoke a few days ago in Washington, D.C. Many Americans have not accepted the single payer approach “because people get confused by the politics,” she said. “People accept the Democratic argument that this [Obamacare] is all we can have or this is something we can build on.”
“If you are trying to meet the goal of universal health coverage and the only way to meet that goal is to force people to purchase private insurance, then you might consider that it is constitutional,” Flowers said. “Our argument is that the individual mandate does not meet the goal of universality. When you attempt to use the individual mandate and expansion of Medicaid for coverage, only about half of the uninsured gain coverage. This is what we have seen in Massachusetts. We do, however, have systems in the United States that could meet the goal of universality. That would be either a Veterans Administration type system, which is a socialized system run by the government, or a Medicare type system, a single payer, publicly financed health care system. If the U.S. Congress had considered an evidence-based approach to health reform instead of writing a bill that funnels more wealth to insurance companies that deny and restrict care, it would have been a no-brainer to adopt a single payer health system much like our own Medicare. We are already spending enough on health care in this country to provide high-quality, universal, comprehensive, lifelong health care. All the data point to a single payer system as the only way to accomplish this and control health care costs.”
Obamacare will, according to figures compiled by Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), leave at least 23 million people without insurance, a figure that translates into an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths a year among people who cannot afford care. Costs will continue to climb. There are no caps on premiums, including for people with “pre-existing conditions.” The elderly can be charged three times the rates provided to the young. Companies with predominantly female workforces can be charged higher gender-based rates. Most of us will soon be paying about 10 percent of our annual incomes to buy commercial health insurance, although this coverage will pay for only about 70 percent of our medical expenses. And those of us who become seriously ill, lose our incomes and cannot pay the skyrocketing premiums are likely to be denied coverage. The dizzying array of loopholes in the law—written in by insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists—means, in essence, that the healthy will receive insurance while the sick and chronically ill will be priced out of the market.
Medical bills already lead to 62 percent of personal bankruptcies, and nearly 80 percent of those declaring personal bankruptcy because of medical costs had insurance. The U.S. spends twice as much per capita on health care as other industrialized nations, $8,160. Private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume 31 percent of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single, nonprofit payer would save more than $400 billion per year, enough, the PNHP estimates, to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.
But as long as corporations determine policy, as long as they can use their money to determine who gets elected and what legislation gets passed, we remain hostages. It matters little in our corporate state that nearly two-thirds of the public wants single payer and that it is backed by 59 percent of doctors. Public debates on the Obama health care reform, controlled by corporate dollars, ruthlessly silence those who support single payer. The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Max Baucus, a politician who gets more than 80 percent of his campaign contributions from outside his home state of Montana, locked out of the Affordable Care Act hearing a number of public health care advocates including Dr. Flowers and Dr. Paris; the two physicians and six other activists were arrested and taken away. Baucus had invited 41 people to testify. None backed single payer. Those who testified included contributors who had given a total of more than $3 million to committee members for their political campaigns.
“It is not necessary to force Americans to buy private health insurance to achieve universal coverage,” said Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action. “There is a proven alternative that Congress didn’t seriously consider, and that alternative is a single payer national health insurance system. Congress could have taken seriously evidence presented by these single payer medical doctors that a single payer system is the only way to both control costs and cover everyone.”
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.
Democrats mimic GOP sleight-of-hand March 20, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Health.
Tags: big pharma, congress, david sirota, democracy, democrats, drug industry, health, health insurance, health reform, healthcare, insurance industry, Lobbyists, pelosi, politics, public option, republicans, roger hollander
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Friday, Mar 19, 2010 17:20 EDT
They’re selling huge giveaways to insurance companies and Big Pharm as reform that helps the middle class
Ever since Thomas Frank published his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Democrats have sought a political strategy to match the GOP’s. The healthcare bill proves they’ve found one.
Whereas Frank highlighted Republicans’ sleight-of-hand success portraying millionaire tax cuts as gifts to the working class, Democrats are now preposterously selling giveaways to insurance and pharmaceutical executives as a middle-class agenda. Same formula, same fat-cat beneficiaries, same bleating sheeple herded to the slaughterhouse. The only difference is the Rube Goldberg contraption that Democrats are using to tend the flock.
First, their leaders campaign on pledges to create a government insurer (a “public option”) that will compete with private health corporations. Once elected, though, Democrats propose simply subsidizing those corporations, which are (not coincidentally) filling Democratic coffers. Justifying the reversal, Democrats claim the subsidies will at least help some citizens try to afford the private insurance they’ll be forced to buy — all while insisting Congress suddenly lacks the votes for a public option.
Despite lawmakers’ refusal to hold votes verifying that assertion, liberal groups obediently follow orders to back the bill, their obsequious leaders fearing scorn from Democratic insiders and moneymen. Specifically, MoveOn, unions and “progressive” nonprofits threaten retribution against lawmakers who consider voting against the bill because it doesn’t include a public option. The threats fly even though these congresspeople would be respecting their previous public-option ultimatums — ultimatums originally supported by many of the same groups now demanding retreat.
Soon it’s on to false choices. Democrats tell their base that any bill is better than no bill, even one making things worse, and that if this particular legislation doesn’t pass, Republicans will win the upcoming election — as if signing a blank check to insurance and drug companies couldn’t seal that fate. They tell everyone else that “realistically” this is the “last chance” for reform, expecting We the Sheeple to forget that those spewing the do-or-die warnings control the legislative calendar and could immediately try again.
Predictably, the fear-mongering prompts left-leaning establishment pundits to bless the bill, giving Democratic activists concise-yet-mindless conversation-enders for why everyone should shut up and fall in line (“Krugman supports it!”). Such bumper-sticker mottos are then demagogued by Democratic media bobbleheads and their sycophants, who dishonestly imply that the bill’s progressive opponents 1) secretly aim to aid the far right and/or 2) actually hope more Americans die for lack of healthcare. In the process, the legislation’s sellouts are lambasted as the exclusive fault of Republicans, not Democrats and their congressional majorities.
Earth sufficiently scorched, President Obama then barnstorms the country, calling the bill a victory for “ordinary working folks” over the same corporations he is privately promising to enrich. The insurance industry, of course, airs token ads to buttress Obama’s “victory” charade — at the same time its lobbyists are, according to Politico, celebrating with chants of “We win!”
By design, pro-public-option outfits like Firedoglake and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee end up depicted as voices of the minority, even as they champion an initiative that polls show the majority of voters support. Meanwhile, telling questions hang: If this represents victory over special interests, why is Politico reporting that “drug industry lobbyists have huddled with Democratic staffers” to help pass the bill? How is the legislation a first step to reform, as proponents argue, if it financially and politically strengthens insurance and drug companies opposing true change? And what prevents those companies from continuing to increase prices?
These queries go unaddressed — and often unasked. Why? Because their answers threaten to expose the robbery in progress, circumvent the “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” contemplation and raise the most uncomfortable question of all:
What’s the matter with Democrats?
© 2010 Creators.com
Tags: big pharma, blue cross, blue shield, health, health care, health care industry, health care legislation, health care reform, health debate, health insurance, health lobbyists, healthcare, healthcare reform, insurance industry, jason leopold, kaiser health, karen ignagni, Lobbyists, Obama, pfizer, pharmaceutical industry, pharmaceutical trade, roger hollander, trade groups
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Wednesday 25 November 2009
Top health care officials met with Barack Obama and other administration officials just as the president pushed Congress to pass legislation to overhaul the health insurance industry, newly released White House visitor logs show.
According to an analysis by the Associated Press, the 1,600 records the White House released Wednesday show that a “broad cross-section of the people most heavily involved in the health care debate, weighted heavily with those who want to overhaul the system.”
Some of these individuals include:
Laird Burnett, a top lobbyist for insurer Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc., and a former Senate aide. Kaiser has spent some $1.7 million lobbying Congress over the past two years.
Joshua Ackil, a lobbyist whose clients include Intel, U.S. Oncology Inc., and Knoa Software Inc., all of which have reported lobbying on the health care overhaul. Ackil met with Dan Turton, the White House’s deputy legislative affairs director who works with the House, in August. Seven people were at the Aug. 21 meeting, the records show.
Alissa Fox, a lobbyist with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, met March 31 with Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget. Four people attended, the records show. The health insurance federation has spent at least $6.7 million lobbying this year.
Amador “Dean” Aguillen, a former aide to Nancy Pelosi who is now with Ogilvy Government Relations, where he lobbies for clients including pharmaceutical companies SanofiPasteur and Takeda Pharmaceuticals America, Pfizer Inc., and Amgen USA Inc., all of which reported lobbying on health care issues this year. Aguillen appears to have attended the same Aug. 21 meeting with Turton that Ackil did.
Bloomberg added that the visits also included representatives from pharmaceutical trade groups.
Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, visited eight times, meeting twice with Obama and once with economic adviser Lawrence Summers. Former U.S. Representative Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, had two meetings with deputy chief of staff Jim Messina among at least eight at the White House.
Ignagni’s group, whose members include Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., is lobbying against efforts to include a public insurance option to compete with the private companies that are members of her trade association. Phrma, whose members include Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based Merck & Co., is pushing Congress to enact health-care legislation.
Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, said Wednesday that the administration received more than 300 requests from the public during the month of October seeking access to the visitor logs, which were posted on the White House’s website.
“Consistent with our earlier announcement that we will only release records that are 90 days or older, this group of records covers the time period between January 20, 2009 to August 31, 2009,” Eisen wrote in a blog post.
Eisen noted that many of the names on the list may appear to be well-known figures, but he cautioned that these indivudals are not who they would appear to be.
“With an average of 100,000 White House access records created each month, many White House Visitors share the same name as celebrities,” Eisen wrote. “In October, requests were submitted for the names of some notable figures (for example Michael Jordan and Michael Moore)…The famous individuals with those names never actually came to the White House, but we have included the individuals that did visit and share those names.”
Heavyweights in the energy and banking industries, were also among the individuals who met with Obama and senior members of his administration.
In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists’ November 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: big pharma, biotechnology industry, congress, genetnech, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance, healthcare, healthcare reform, insurance industry, Lobbyists, pharmaceutical industry, robert pear, roche, roger hollander, washington lobbyists
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WASHINGTON — In the official record of the historic House debate on overhauling health care, the speeches of many lawmakers echo with similarities. Often, that was no accident.
Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.
E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans.
The lobbyists, employed by Genentech and by two Washington law firms, were remarkably successful in getting the statements printed in the Congressional Record under the names of different members of Congress.
Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists.
In an interview, Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, said: “I regret that the language was the same. I did not know it was.” He said he got his statement from his staff and “did not know where they got the information from.”
Members of Congress submit statements for publication in the Congressional Record all the time, often with a decorous request to “revise and extend my remarks.” It is unusual for so many revisions and extensions to match up word for word. It is even more unusual to find clear evidence that the statements originated with lobbyists.
The e-mail messages and their attached documents indicate that the statements were based on information supplied by Genentech employees to one of its lobbyists, Matthew L. Berzok, a lawyer at Ryan, MacKinnon, Vasapoli & Berzok who is identified as the “author” of the documents. The statements were disseminated by lobbyists at a big law firm, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.
In an e-mail message to fellow lobbyists on Nov. 5, two days before the House vote, Todd M. Weiss, senior managing director of Sonnenschein, said, “We are trying to secure as many House R’s and D’s to offer this/these statements for the record as humanly possible.”
He told the lobbyists to “conduct aggressive outreach to your contacts on the Hill to see if their bosses would offer the attached statements (or an edited version) for the record.”
In recent years, Genentech’s political action committee and lobbyists for Roche and Genentech have made campaign contributions to many House members, including some who filed statements in the Congressional Record. And company employees have been among the hosts at fund-raisers for some of those lawmakers. But Evan L. Morris, head of Genentech’s Washington office, said, “There was no connection between the contributions and the statements.”
Mr. Morris said Republicans and Democrats, concerned about the unemployment rate, were receptive to the company’s arguments about the need to keep research jobs in the United States.
The statements were not intended to change the bill, which was not open for much amendment during the debate. They were meant to show bipartisan support for certain provisions, even though the vote on passage generally followed party lines.
Democrats emphasized the bill’s potential to create jobs in health care, health information technology and clinical research on new drugs.
Republicans opposed the bill, but praised a provision that would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to approve generic versions of expensive biotechnology drugs, along the lines favored by brand-name companies like Genentech.
Lawmakers from both parties said it was important to conduct research on such “biosimilar” products in the United States. Several took a swipe at aggressive Indian competitors.
Asked about the Congressional statements, a lobbyist close to Genentech said: “This happens all the time. There was nothing nefarious about it.”
In separate statements using language suggested by the lobbyists, Representatives Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri and Joe Wilson of South Carolina, both Republicans, said: “One of the reasons I have long supported the U.S. biotechnology industry is that it is a homegrown success story that has been an engine of job creation in this country. Unfortunately, many of the largest companies that would seek to enter the biosimilar market have made their money by outsourcing their research to foreign countries like India.”
In remarks on the House floor, Representative Phil Hare, Democrat of Illinois, recalled that his family had faced eviction when his father was sick and could not make payments on their home. He said the House bill would save others from such hardship.
In a written addendum in the Congressional Record, Mr. Hare said the bill would also create high-paying jobs. Timothy Schlittner, a spokesman for Mr. Hare, said: “That part of his statement was drafted for us by Roche pharmaceutical company. It is something he agrees with.”
The boilerplate in the Congressional Record included some conversational touches, as if actually delivered on the House floor.
In the standard Democratic statement, Representative Robert A. Brady of Pennsylvania said: “Let me repeat that for some of my friends on the other side of the aisle. This bill will create high-paying, high-quality jobs in health care delivery, technology and research in the United States.”
Mr. Brady’s chief of staff, Stanley V. White, said he had received the draft statement from a lobbyist for Genentech’s parent company, Roche.
“We were approached by the lobbyist, who asked if we would be willing to enter a statement in the Congressional Record,” Mr. White said. “I asked him for a draft. I tweaked a couple of words. There’s not much reason to reinvent the wheel on a Congressional Record entry.”
Some differences were just a matter of style. Representative Yvette D. Clarke, Democrat of New York, said, “I see this bill as an exciting opportunity to create the kind of jobs we so desperately need in this country, while at the same time improving the lives of all Americans.”
Representative Donald M. Payne, Democrat of New Jersey, used the same words, but said the bill would improve the lives of “ALL Americans.”
Mr. Payne and Mr. Brady said the bill would “create new opportunities and markets for our brightest technology minds.” Mr. Pascrell said the bill would “create new opportunities and markets for our brightest minds in technology.”
In nearly identical words, three Republicans — Representatives K. Michael Conaway of Texas, Lynn Jenkins of Kansas and Lee Terry of Nebraska — said they had criticized many provisions of the bill, and “rightfully so.”
But, each said, “I do believe the sections relating to the creation of a market for biosimilar products is one area of the bill that strikes the appropriate balance in providing lower cost options.”
Kucinich’s Brave Health Vote Vs. Obama’s Failed Promise November 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: big pharma, blue dog, Dennis Kucinich, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance, healthcare reform, hr 3962, insurance industry, kucinich, lee stranahan, pharma, public option, roger hollander, single payer
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There were plenty of cowardly votes in the House last night but there was only one truly brave one. The unsung hero of the night was Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich. Despite enormous pressure to support H.R. 3962, Rep. Kucinich did the right thing and voted ‘no’. Unlike the Blue Dog votes against the bill, he did it for all the right reasons.
In a principled and practical statement, Rep. Kucinich said what a growing number of progressives have realized as we’ve watched real health care reform be compromised again and again.
During the debate, when the interests of insurance companies would have been effectively challenged, that challenge was turned back. The “robust public option” which would have offered a modicum of competition to a monopolistic industry was whittled down from an initial potential enrollment of 129 million Americans to 6 million. An amendment which would have protected the rights of states to pursue single-payer health care was stripped from the bill at the request of the Administration. Looking ahead, we cringe at the prospect of even greater favors for insurance companies.
Personally, I supported President Obama in the primaries and the election but do not support him on this corporate giveaway built on broken campaign promises. I voted for the Barack Obama who opposed the individual mandate, who said the negotiations would be televised on C-SPAN and who campaigned against backroom deals with PhARMA.
Conservatives have expressed outrage for months about the way the health care bill was handled. Their anti-government anger is misplaced because it lets the insurances and drug companies who really helped drive this bill off the hook. But I understand their sense that this bill was passed despite the people.
Progressives should be every bit as upset that President Obama lied to us to get his historic health bill. The citizens of this country did not have a seat at the table. Proponents of the Single Payer didn’t have a seat at the table. Under the guise of health care reform, we watched as the insurance industry got a bill passed that entrenches and enriches them.
Don’t let anyone fool you that this bill is a good start. It’s got a poison pill “Public Option” that is designed to fail. As the brilliant RJ Eskow wrote recently about the House bill’s public option,
The plan will have low enrollment and little power to negotiate, causing the CBO to state as fact what I’ve long considered possible: That the public option could become a dumping ground where private plans jettison sicker people, while lacking the efficiencies of scale or negotiating power to get better rates or administer itself more economically.As a result, says the CBO, a public plan’s premiums might be higher than private insurance. While the CBO’s word isn’t gospel, it’s entirely possible that they’re underestimating the cost of any “public option” we’re likely to see this year. The likeliest political outcome, once the House and Senate bills are combined, is a non-robust “public option” with a state-by-state opt out. The CBO didn’t consider the opt-out when it came up with its shocking (to some) estimate.
Even if it passes in its weak form, this Public Option will be the target of the GOP for years and they won’t rest until it is dead. As the Public Option kicks into gear, they will find stories of ‘rationing’ and denial of care they can highlight, true or not. They will use the higher costs as proof of the Public Option’s folly. They will grind away at the Public Option relentlessly but they will leave the Individual Mandate alone. If anything, once the Mandate is in place, the Republicans will make sure the insurance industry is ‘free to compete’ and unrestricted.
The corporate interests that spend millions to influence the media and both political parties want you to ignore Congressman Kucinich. Too many Democrats unwittingly help them. Don’t be a patsy.
People like Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader and Michael Moore have been made pariahs by establishment Democrats. They have all been marginalized and made fun of…but check their records. They have been considered ‘fringe’ because they are telling us the truth about corporate abuses of power long before most of the rest of us catch up to the reality of what’s happened.
If enough of us stand with Dennis Kucinich, maybe we’ll actually get real health care reform. If we don’t, maybe we don’t deserve that reform.
Tags: big pharma, canada helath, canadian health care, canadian healthcare, clintons, health, health care, health care costs, health care reform, health costs, health insurance, health insurance industry, healthcare, healthcare costs, healthcare reform, Medicaid, medicare, paul rogat loeb, pharmaceutical industry, private health insurance, rick scott, Robert Reich, roger hollander, singel-payer, single payer, tommy douglas
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Will serious health reform meet the fate of the scorpion and the turtle? In that fable, the scorpion pleads with the turtle to carry him across a river. The turtle resists, fearing the scorpion’s sting, but the scorpion reassures him that he’d do nothing so foolish, since both would drown if he did. Finally the turtle agrees. Halfway across, the scorpion betrays his promise with a lethal sting. As the turtle begins to drown, he asks why he took both their lives. “It’s just who I am,” the scorpion replies.
I fear we’re about to get stung again. When people look back at the failure of the Clinton-era health care initiative, they point, accurately, to an opaque process that produced a baroque Rube Goldberg mess that satisfied no one. That happened even before the insurance industry went on the attack with their Harry and Louise ads. But another missing element parallels our current challenge-appeasement of the insurance companies as the plan’s centerpiece, and the inevitability that these same interests will betray us again.
The Clintons assumed the insurance companies were too powerful to confront, so the plan had to go along with them. But once they assumed any bill had to get the companies’ approval, no plan could work, because it had to build in ways for the companies to maintain their profit margins and the immensely wasteful overhead they spend on advertising, processing claims, and turning down as many sick people as they can. Their approach also creates corollary wastes, like the third of the expenses of the average medical office that go toward dealing with insurance company paperwork.
Our health care crisis is so dire that the simple single-payer approach, as in Canada, should be at least seriously debated. Compared with us, most Canadians are satisfied with their system, in contrast with a recent US poll where 49 percent said our health system needed fundamental changes and 38 percent said it should be completely rebuilt. Canadians get a full choice of doctors (unlike in the US, where households have to switch doctors when employers change their insurance or insurance companies change their preferred provider lists). Tommy Douglas, the Canadian New Democratic Party leader who pushed through national health care in the mid-60s (replacing a system like ours), was recently voted Greatest Canadian in a recent contest, beating hockey star Wayne Gretzky and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Even if single payer isn’t politically achievable yet, there’s no reason to take it off the table from the beginning. Doing so means most Americans never get to hear the contrast in cost savings, in allocation ease, in impact on ordinary citizens and their health outcomes. They never get to hear the story that might allow them to overcome current fears about losing the health care they have, being unable to see their preferred doctor, or being condemned to the Purgatory of endless waiting. Maybe we’ve been so conditioned that we can’t quite get the support for a full-fledged switch. A recent Kaiser Foundation poll still gives single-payer a narrow 49 to 47 percent majority, vs 67 percent for including a fully competitive public option, and maybe that isn’t enough. But at least we need to tell the story, so the probably inevitable compromise works down from full public coverage, as opposed to considering options that gut even the option of serious public coverage entirely.
Instead, because we’ve accepted the premise that the private insurance companies have to be included, we’re now starting to consider including a public option only if it includes poison pills that will doom it to fail, like requiring it be triggered by a set of exceedingly unlikely circumstances deferred to the indefinite future. Or requiring it to play by rules so onerous that it can’t achieve its straightforward cost savings. Or turning it over to the states, so Big Pharma and Big Insurance interests can simply, as Robert Reich warns, “buy off legislators and officials as they’ve been doing for years.”
But why assume that the insurance companies are our friends? Why appease them at all? It’s not as if they’ve played a helpful role in our current system. Rather, they’ve gamed it in every possible way, leaving our country with the highest health care costs in the world and worst health outcomes of any advanced industrial country. While they’ve made promises to cut costs, their promises are only that (like the scorpion’s), and they’re already lobbying with everything they have to gut any seriously competitive public option. Add in examples like former HCA/Columbia CEO Rick Scott. after his company paid a $1.7 billion fine (the largest in US history) for defrauding Medicare, Medicaid, and the program that serves our armed forces, he is now organizing attacks on any public program (hiring the PR firm that coordinated the “Swift Boat” attacks on John Kerry). We need to challenge the insurance companies, not appease them. There’s no evidence that suggests they’re constructive players, or are likely to do anything except defend their own parochial interest.
The insurance companies and other major financial interests are talking a good line of late. They have no choice if they don’t want to be cut out of the game. But ultimately, they are who they are, and their behavior reflects this. It makes no sense to embrace a partner who you know will ultimately betray you.
Maybe the public private mix is the best compromise we can get at the moment. But we must raise our voices now to demand a full debate on the other alternatives, like single payer, and then if necessary settle for something that gives a public option a chance, under equitable rules, to see how it plays out in efficiency, service, and cost. Trusting the insurance companies and stacking the deck to guarantee that private options will prevail merely assures we continue our dysfunctional system until its human and financial costs drown us all.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his articles directly email email@example.com with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles.
Tags: ama, big pharma, health, health care, health care for profit, health care reform, health insurance, health insurance industry, health reform, healthcare cost, healthcare reform, healthcare spending, hospital industry, journalists, jr., m.s.bellows, medicare, national health plan, obama administration, pharmaceutical industry, private health insurance, private insurance, public health plan, radical health care reform, roger hollander, single payer
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Published on Monday, May 11, 2009 by Huffington Post
Optimism is a virtue; it leads us to see the best in people despite their worse sides, and to envision a better future even when we can clearly see the obstacles we currently face. But blind optimism is no virtue. Naive or overeager optimism can lead us to ignore the fact that most people have mixed motives, and to envision a bright future so clearly that we are blind to the obstacles that stand between a hard now and a better then. Wise optimists trust – but verify; they have faith in the better, but do not ignore the worse, angels of human nature.
On Sunday afternoon, two senior Obama Administration officials called a telephonic press conference to announce a huge, positive new development in the healthcare reform effort. When I say senior, I mean pretty darn senior. And they seemed genuinely, sincerely excited about this mysterious new development – excited enough to buzz every national journalist’s BlackBerry with an invitation to the conference call in the middle of Mother’s Day. They considered the development significant enough to declare an embargo, forbidding journalists to write about it until 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Because the President himself will be announcing this development officially tomorrow morning, they made the call – arranged by the White House press office – “on background,” asking not to be identified by name or position.
The big news? Just this: a coalition of health insurance, hospital, pharmaceutical company, and physician trade groups, plus a major union, will promise the President Monday that they will reduce the rate of future growth in the cost of healthcare by 1.5% per year for the next decade.
That’s it. And the President will be announcing it himself Monday morning, presumably with equal excitement.
Healthcare will continue to be increasingly expensive for consumers, but not quite as quickly as it was going to be. 7% per year inflation will become 5.5% per year inflation — that is, if the participants keep their promise. Which, according to the officials, they’ll do, not because there’s any kind of enforcement mechanism – there isn’t one – but simply because they’re “Americans.”
(That’s a quote: Big Pharma, the health insurance lobby, the American Medical Association, hospital industry groups, et al. are going to reduce costs, and presumably profits, solely because they’re good “Americans.”)
The senior administration officials were hyperbolic, if not hyperventilated. One, focusing on the political battle to enact healthcare reform, called this promise by industry trade groups “a game changer.”
The other official, focusing on economic issues, saw this as nothing less than the salvation of the entire federal budget:
“I don’t think there could be a more significant step to help struggling families and to help the federal budget than reducing the growth rate of healthcare spending by 1.5 percentage points per year. With regard to the federal budget… the only way that we are going to restore the nation to a sound fiscal path over the long term is to reduce the growth rate in health care costs… Reducing the growth rate of health care costs overall by 1.5% per year would virtually eliminate the nation’s long term fiscal gap. … This, by an order of magnitude, is far more important [than Social Security or related reforms] to the fiscal trajectory that we’re on, especially over the long term, than anything else that could be done.”
Remember, we’re talking about slightly reducing the rate of growth in health care costs, not a reduction in health care costs themselves. That’s what’s supposedly going to save both American families and the nation’s fiscal problems “over the long term.”
The journalists on the call, understandably, were more skeptical. The biggies queued up to ask questions: reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Washington Post, NBC News, CNN, Los Angeles Times, Reuters. Some asked for wonkish, green-eyeshade details (answers were rarely forthcoming).
Other reporters questioned what mechanisms were in place for making sure those promises are kept (answer: there are none).
In response to a question from Reuters, one of the officials put his trust in the bully pulpit and the Fourth Estate, saying, “I don’t know how many of you have made, in-person, a commitment to the President of the United States… There will be accountability not only through regular check-ins with the President of the United States but also through the media, because I have no doubt that you all will be checking up on them.”
The other official simply believes that pharmaceutical, insurance and hospital trade groups are acting in patriotic good faith, saying, “These are very sophisticated trade associations which in the past have, one could argue, dragged their feet when it came to the subject of health care reform and certainly cost containment. They’re coming forward voluntarily, approaching this President and saying, we want to be part of the solution, we want to be part of getting health care reform done… That fundamentally aligns these major provider groups with the President’s goal of getting health care reform done this year. That is a game changer in our opinion.”
Eliza Marcus of Bloomberg and Michael Fletcher of the Washington Post asked outright whether the healthcare industry was buying something with this concession. One of the officials dismissed the possibility denied that there have been any discussions at all about the public plan or any other quid pro quo, instead casting the industry coalition in purely patriotic terms: “They put it to me that everybody must share responsibility… they want to get everybody covered…, and they said to me, we know we have to do our part… this is them coming forward as Americans to get this done.”
Am I the only one who is puzzled at the Administration taking these groups at their word? Big Pharma, for example, hasn’t made a concession yet without something being in it for them. Many of the groups participating in this initiative historically have opposed health care reform and are large donors to the Republican and Vichy Dem politicians who are preparing to mount a political and rhetorical battle against health care reform, as evidenced most recently by the leak of Republican pollster Frank Luntz’s crassly cynical talking points memo on how conservative and industry opponents of healthcare reform can “spin” Obama’s plan so it sounds like Mandatory Gay Nazi Communism.
It’s difficult to believe that the concessions being made by the for-profit members of this “patriotic” coalition are unrelated to any hope that Obama can be persuaded to drop his current proposal to include an inexpensive, government-backed, single-payer-style healthcare plan among the options available to consumers once healthcare reform passes later this year. That government-backed option scares the for-profit healthcare industry, because they know they can’t compete with it; Medicare, for all its faults, still has the lowest administrative costs than any other health provider in the country, and delivers competent care to millions of Americans who otherwise would go uninsured. For-profits can’t top that — and they know that if millions of Americans sign up for federally-run healthcare and see that it works, the inertia towards single-payer healthcare for everyone may become a juggernaut.
The last question of the call, happily, went to me. I wanted, first, to confirm that the grand announcement was merely about a reduction in cost increases, not a reduction in cost, and second, to know whether Obama, himself, considered a public health care option to be beyond negotiation.
I didn’t like the answers I got, though. The first tells me that the Administration is getting too excited about too little. The second fell short of the adamant reassurance I wanted to hear. But decide for yourself:
Bellows: “I have two questions. The first is following up on Michael Fletcher’s and Eliza Marcus’ questions: is the President still insistent that a public health plan will be among the options offered to people, or is that a bargaining chip in any way? And the second question, following up on Andrew Beatty’s: is it correct that the cost per capita will still increase, just not as much as it previously was projected to?Senior Administration Official #1: “On the second question, the answer to that is yes. Again, what we’re talking about here is reducing the growth rate, so yes, health care costs, you should anticipate health care costs will continue to rise, but achieving a slowdown in the rate at which they increase is a, would be a huge accomplishment in terms of freeing up resources for other priorities and in terms of relieving pressure on the federal budget.”
The official continued with a justification for accepting continued healthcare cost increases: “One of the reasons that you should expect health care costs to continue to increase is not only that the population is aging, which puts some upward pressure on health spending, but also that as incomes rise over time, it is natural that people want to spend part of their additional income on health care….”
Senior Administration Official #2 on questions one: “On the public plan, this event with the President tomorrow is not about the public plan, we’ve had no discussion with this group about the public plan, in fact, if I look at the list of trade associations that are part of this, there are different views about it, but the President likes the public plan, it’s part of his campaign platform.”
I’m not normally a knee-jerk cynic, but this simply sounds naive to me. One of the Obama administration’s mantras is “don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.” But in these times, with this mandate and the American people’s rare but undeniable hunger for radical change, their motto ought to be: “Don’t let the good be the enemy of the perfect.”
Radical health care reform – reform that doesn’t shave health care costs for regular people, but slashes them; reform that doesn’t force single-payer healthcare on the American people too soon, but sets the stage for their eventual, uncomplaining acceptance of it – is within Obama’s grasp. He’d be wrong to settle for merely “good” health care – for health care that merely slows the rate at which costs increase, or health care that doesn’t include a government-payer option that would demonstrate that a government-sponsored plan can provide better care at lower cost than any profit-driven private plan is capable of.
Single-payer, low-cost healthcare is America’s future. By taking for-profit corporate lobbyists at their word, is Obama setting himself up to agree to step off the path to that future? Obama has, within his grasp, that once-in-a-lifetime rarity: a plan that is both nearly perfect, AND achievable. Will he reassure us that nothing less will do for the American people — people who have put their trust in his commitment to do more than compromise?
Put Single-Payer on the Table March 11, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: amy goodman, big pharma, black caucus, denis moynihan, geri jenkins, H.R. 676, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance industry, health insurance plans, health summit, health-care summit, health-insurance providers, healthcare, healthcare reform, healthcare summit, joe stiglitz, marcia angell, max baucus, National Health Program, Obama, private health insurance, quentin young, reform advocates, rep. conyers, single payer, single payer action
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Published on Wednesday, March 11, 2009 by TruthDig.com
Congress is considering H.R. 676, “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All,” sponsored by John Conyers, D-Mich., with 64 co-sponsors. Yet even when Rep. Conyers directly asked Obama at a Congressional Black Caucus meeting if he could attend the White House health-care summit, he was not immediately invited. Nor was any other advocate for single-payer health care.
Conyers had asked to bring Dr. Marcia Angell, the first woman editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, the most prestigious medical journal in the country, and Dr. Quentin Young. Young is perhaps the most well-known single-payer advocate in America. He was Martin Luther King Jr.’s doctor when King lived in Chicago. “My 15-minute house calls would stretch into three hours,” he told me.
But he came to know Barack Obama even better. Though his medical partner was Obama’s doctor, Young was his neighbor, friend and ally for decades. “Obama supported single-payer, gave speeches for it,” he said.
This past weekend, hundreds turned out to honor the 85-year-old Young, including the Illinois governor and three members of Congress, but the White House’s response to Conyers’ request that Young be included in the summit? A resounding no. Perhaps because Obama personally knows how persuasive and committed Young is.
After much outcry, Conyers was invited. Activist groups like Physicians for a National Health Program (pnhp.org) expressed outrage that no other single-payer advocate was to be among the 120 people at the summit. Finally, the White House relented and invited Dr. Oliver Fein, president of PNHP. Two people out of 120.
Locked out of the debate, silenced by the media, single-payer advocates are taking action. Russell Mokhiber, who writes and edits the Corporate Crime Reporter, has decided that the time has come to directly confront the problem of our broken health-care system. He’s going to the national meeting of the American Health Insurance Plans and is joining others in burning their health-insurance bills outside in protest. Mokhiber told me, “The insurance companies have no place in the health care of American people. How are we going to beat these people? We have to start the direct confrontation.” Launching a new organization, Single Payer Action (singlepayeraction.org), Mokhiber and others promise to take the issue to the insurance industry executives, the lobbyists and the members of Congress directly, in Washington, D.C., and their home district offices.
Critical mass is building behind a single-payer system. From Nobel Laureate in Economics Joseph Stiglitz, who told me, “I’ve reluctantly come to the view that it’s the only alternative,” to health-care providers themselves, who witness and endure the system’s failure firsthand. Geri Jenkins of the newly formed, 150,000-nurses-strong United American Nurses-National Nurses Organizing Committee (nnoc.net) said: “It is the only health-care-reform proposal that can work. … We are currently pushing to have a genuine, honest policy debate, because we’ll win … the health insurers will collapse under the weight of their own irrelevance.”
Dr. Young has now been invited to a Senate meeting along with the “usual suspects”: health-insurance providers, Big Pharma and health-care-reform advocates. I asked Young what he thought of the refrain coming from the White House, as well as from the leading senator on the issue, Max Baucus, that “single-payer is off the table.” “It’s repulsive,” sighed Young. “We are very angry.” But not discouraged. I asked him what he thought about Burn Your Health Insurance Bill Day. “Things are heating up.” he chuckled. “When things are happening that you have nothing to do with, you know it’s a movement.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.