by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
August 7, 2009
BIG MONEY CONTROLS THE HEALTH CARE REFORM DEBATE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), the nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures, the people who support health care reform are getting swamped by those who don't want to see any significant change to the U.S. health care system.
From 2007, the first year that Democrats took control of Congress, to the first three months of 2009, nearly $1.4 billion was spent on lobbying by the five sectors of the health care industry that have the most to lose in health care reform - parmaceuticals/health products, insurance, health services/HMOs, hospitals and nursing homes and health care professions.
The perennial obstacle to health care reform, the American Medical Association, spent $204 million on lobbying over the past decade, making it second only to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which was the No. 1 spender at more than $450 million) in terms of buying influence in Washington. And hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by health care interests in campaign contributions in the 2006 and 2008 elections.
In just the first three months of this year, the health care industry spent $127 million on lobbying efforts. As for the people who support a public insurance option, they've spent very little by comparison. Families USA, a self-described consumer watchdog dedicated to health care issues, for example, has spent a mere $10,000 on lobbying in the first quarter of this year and a total of only $32,000 in 2008. Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a national coalition of doctors' associations, consumer groups and other activists, spent $80,000 last year.
If you are wondering why a "Medicare-for-all" option -- something that roughly 70-75 percent of Americans favor, according to various opinion polls - has gotten little traction in Congress, the figures listed above tell you why. As is the case with nearly everything in Washington, money talks and the more money you have, the easier it is to strangle any attempts at reform.
And it doesn't take a lot of money. Nate Silver, the statistician behind the political numbers blog FiveThirtyEight.com, recently concluded that as little as $60,000 in campaign contributions over the last six years would be enough to cut in half the odds of a moderate Democrat in Congress supporting a health care bill with a public option.
For example, take the group of conservative House Democrats from the South and Midwest who call themselves the Blue Dogs (formerl;y known as the Yellow Dogs) who are doing their best to stall and obstruct efforts to get a health care reform bill through Congress. The Washington Post reported last week that the 52 Blue Dogs have set a record pace for fundraising this year through their political action committee, collecting more than $1.1 million through June.
According to another CRP analysis, more than half the Blue Dogs' money came from the health care, insurance and financial services industries. That's a notable surge in donations from those sectors compared with earlier years. Looking at career contribution patterns, the CRP also found that the typical Blue Dog receives about 25 percent more money from the health care and insurance sectors than other Democrats, which puts them closer to Republicans in attracting industry support.
Fortunately, my congressional delegation is firmly behind health care reform and appears immune to pressure groups trying to stop it. I can't say as much for the other 49 states.
Here are the real numbers for the public option, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Right now, the United States spends about $2.4 trillion on health care. About a third of this money, roughly $800 billion, goes toward administrative overhead that has little to do with making people well.
With publicly-funded insurance in place, this nation could have close to universal health care coverage and do it at a cost of around $1 trillion. For those who say that's too expensive, remember that the Bush Administration's tax cuts for the wealthy cost about $1.8 trillion over 10 years and the cost of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is approaching $1 trillion after six years.
The debate is all about money and politics and has not got anything to do with keeping people healthy. This is yet another example of how our current system of legalized bribery, otherwise known as campaign contributions, distorts the democratic process.
So when you hear Republicans and Blue Dogs talk about the need to slow the process of health care reform down, remember who is putting money into their pockets. Then you'll see that the goal is not careful deliberation, but trying to keep the campaign contribution gravy train going for as long as possible.
America has been waiting for more than 60 years for universal health care. If our Congress can vote to give away money to people who don't need it or to pay for an unnecessary and unneeded war, there are no more excuses for coming up with a Medicare-for-all system of health care.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For extra added thrills, read his ongoing daily blog on The Harvard Classics at http://hclassics15.blogspot.com.