Friday, May 22, 2009

Health Insurance Reform - Conflicts of Interest

It's been in the news for a week now that Senator Baucus's Finance Committee hearings are a total sham. With 59% of Americans asking for a single-payer system, it is absurd that the Senate would only meet with representatives from the industries that profit from the existing, inefficient private system. How could Baucus overlook representatives from single-payer supporting groups? The unfortunate and obvious answer is money.

Baucus has received "... from the insurance industry, $1,170,313; from health professionals, $1,016,276; pharmaceuticals/health-products industry, $734,605; hospitals/nursing homes, $541,891; health services/HMOs, $439,700" over his career.

"According to the report, Senator Baucus received $183,750 from health insurance companies and $229,020 from drug companies in the last two election cycles."

Insurance companies and drug companies have lots of money to spend on lobbying and campaign contributions (legal bribes). People who cannot afford health insurance also cannot afford lobbying or campaign contributions. The only way to get representation in government decision-making processes is to pay the people who get to make the decisions.

But wait... where did those figures come from? Some searching on has only given me more blogs and op/ed pieces that cite DemocracyNow! or the 13 protesters who were arrested, heavily biased sources of information. Where can I find something more legitimate? A few seconds with Google gives me Let's look up our friend Max Baucus.

Three of his top 5 contributing industries and their contributions since 2005:
Insurance - $545,225
Pharmaceuticals/Health Products - $493,313
Health Professionals - $492,641

Individual contributers include Aetna, Amgen, Blue Cross, and Kindred Healthcare. For the billions of dollars these companies have riding on Baucus's actions, they are getting a pretty sweet deal. Baucus isn't alone, though. These companies donate to pretty much everybody to make sure their interests are taken into account more than the citizens of this country who do not make large financial contributions.

Something else that is interesting is that pharmaceutical companies gave 2-3 times as much money to Republicans as to Democrats until 2008. This may just reflect that we had a Republican majority in Congress until recently, but also that the Republican party values big corporate profits more than social welfare, relative to the Democratic party. Big Pharma would want to finance Republican campaigns in closer elections, but resort to just getting some leverage with Democrats in a year in which more Democrats were going to win anyway. I would like to hear other ideas.

I am glad that organizations such as OpenSecrets help give us transparency, but why isn't this information in the mainstream media? When CNN runs a story with politicians giving their policy views, it could easily and briefly mention each politician's conflicts of interest. Most people just don't know what's out there unless it's given to them, and it is the media's responsibility in a democracy to give the public relevant information.

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