By ROBERT WEINER and JORDAN OSSERMAN
Originally published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
President Obama's news conference on health care last month covered the policy issues in the battle for reform "" cost, coverage, and urgency. Unfortunately, there's a lot more to the fight.
The opposition to health reform is a tangled web of vested interests with major financial stakes in maintaining the status quo, no matter how broken it is. That's one main reason America is the only developed nation in the world that doesn't provide healthcare to its citizens.
Rick Scott, president of Conservatives for Patients Rights, is flooding the airwaves and funding disruptions of congressional town halls, warning about "government run" healthcare.
Yet Scott was ousted from his former company, for-profit hospital operator Columbia/HCA, before the company pled guilty to 14 felonies, paying the largest fraud settlement in American history "" 1.7 billion dollars. Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, said, "Rick Scott pushing health care reform is like Bernie Madoff attempting to regulate the financial industry."
According to recently published Congressional financial disclosures, 30 key lawmakers involved in health care legislation total nearly $11 million worth of personal investments in the healthcare sector.
Perhaps one of the most egregious examples because of his constant criticism of reform is Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), the Obama nominee for Commerce Secretary who withdrew because of opposition to the Administration's agenda. A senior member of the health committee, he just disclosed owning $254,000-$560,000 in stock of health care companies.
The health care industry is spending $1.4 million dollars per day to lobby against reform, and spent $126 million on lobbying in the first quarter, leading all other groups. Three of every four major health firms hire at least one lobbyist who previously worked for a congressman; 49 of the 136 lobbyists employed by PhRMA are former congressional staffers who retain cozy Hill relationships.
At a news conference July 28, in response to our question on the industry's influence, House Speaker Pelosi asserted, "The glory days of the health insurance industry are over. Their profits are obscene."
Opponents of health reform claim that by preserving our private-only insurance system, they're looking out for us, the consumer.
Is that why over the past five years, health insurance premiums have risen 5.5 times faster on average than inflation? Or why, according to a report released this year by the Senate Commerce Committee, "Consumers have paid billions that their insurance companies should have paid"?
Like many for-profit companies, our healthcare providers just want to make a killing. The last thing these corporations want is to compete with a transparent public healthcare option that all Americans can afford. Wendell Potter, former spokesman for Cigna, said that the industry has launched a "charm offensive" to "shape reform in a way that benefits Wall Street far more than average Americans."
Opponents keep citing the CBO's estimate that reform may cost $1.6 trillion. Yet we've spent six trillion dollars bailing out financial institutions, and one trillion on Iraq only to discover that there were no WMDs and al Qaeda is actually in Afghanistan. Is health less valuable? The health cost is not only reasonable and now includes major cost-cutting strategies but most importantly will save consumers significant sums.
Responding to another question at the July 28 news conference, Pelosi confirmed that "of course" CBO should measure consumer savings. Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel has said, "The CBO does not score savings of people in their own pocketbook that could be $2 trillion."
Our current system is the most expensive in the world per capita, yet ranks a pathetic 47th in the world in life expectancy and 43rd in infant mortality. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius recently said, "Everyone wants to believe we have the best care in the world. We don't. We spend twice as much and are sicker and die sooner."