Monday, June 29, 2009

Money talks: Key senators swayed by health industry contributions

With the Congressional debate over health care reaching a crescendo, I find myself particularly baffled by the behavior of two influential Senators. Why, I wonder, would Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, and Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, oppose a public health insurance option that could compete with private insurers? Baucus, after all, has worked closely on health-care reform with Senator Edward Kennedy, a stout supporter of a public option. And Grassley, who has taken the lead in investigating doctors on the take from pharmaceutical and medical device companies, must surely understand the corrosive influence of the for-profit motive in health care.

Grassley says he opposes a public plan for fear it would eventually put private insurance plans out of business, according to an excellent overview of the debate in The New York Review of Books. But isn't that the idea? Are we not the only developed country in the western hemisphere that permits for-profit health insurance? Why should Grassley and Baucus care so much about the fate of for-profit medicine?

Here's one reason why: both Senators have received tons of money from PACs and individuals representing the health-care industry in recent years. Indeed, the two or three top industries contributing to Grassley and Baucus's campaign chests from 2003 to 2008 are, you guessed it, insurance companies and health professionals. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, health professionals donated $812,077 to Grassley between 2003 and 2008, while insurance companies gave him a total of $643,643. Similarly, health professionals contributed $851,141 to Max Baucus over the same period of time, while insurance companies gave him $784,185. (Pharmaceutical companies, who are similarly opposed to a public health option because it will eat into their profits) also contributed $852,813 to Baucus' war chest during the same years).

And if you look at the top individual donors to these Senators, you see the same pattern: on both Grassley and Baucus's top 20 list, you will find the American Hospital Association, the American Health Care Association (which represents nursing homes), a number of health insurers, such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Aetna, and several organizations representing medical professionals. As I noted in a previous blog, many doctors don't want a public health option because it will eat into their profits, since Medicare and Medicaid tend to reimburse doctors (and pharmaceutical companies) at lower rates than private insurers do.

Now you can view this as just one more sad illustration of the power that moneyed interests have over our Congressional leaders. But if I were a voter in Montana or Iowa worried about paying my medical bills, I might want to pick up the phone and ask Senator Baucus or Grassley just who exactly they are representing: me or corporate America?

4 comments:

Quiact said...

Great post, and what you illustrated, Alison.

First, democrats and republicans are essentially synonomous with each other- only the democrats say, 'thank you' after they take away what is rightfully yours.

Anything said to be bipartisan is void of significance or efficacy.

Charles Grassley, who is approaching 80 years of age, has been in the senate too long, I believe.

He opposes a public insurance plan due to the effect this would have on the private insurance industry.

Of course, this is a sacrifice that will need to occur for reform and overhaul of our health care system is going to occur.

Max Baucus is opposed to any single payer health care system.

Both, and most others who could facilitate health care reform and overhaul as it needs to be done will not due to their corporate entrenchment.

These are the politicians who, by definition, are in the positions they have to serve American citizens.

People have too much faith in politicians- falsely believing that if others complain and explain the etiologies of why change must occur, this will make a difference.

Last month, several protestors were arrested by Capitol police during a senate hearing on health care reform. Most of these protestors were doctors and nurses.

They were charged with, 'disruption of congress'. Max Baucus actually said, 'we want police' as this event was initally occuring.

To reform is to alter, or improve and correct what exists that is detrimental to others. This is done by discontinuing various abuses to others by causing the abusers to discontinue their harmful actions.

To overhaul, is to destroy in order to repair. It's a needed revolution.

To discover more deeply these senators, and who has them on their payroll, consider checking out the following websites:

www.opensecrets.org
www.sourcewatch.org

We as a country need more to speak up about what is necessary to make our health care a functioning system for all.

Dan Abshear

Andy Alt said...

Alison, thanks for the impartial analysis of Senator Grassley's position. It can be hard to criticize those Senators, or more singularly, that Senator who has been leading the way in the fight for informed consent and human rights when it comes to the poisons being doled out to mostly poor and low-income Americans.

Despite this recent action by Senator Grassley, unlike the previous commenter, I'm not ready to say Grassley should go. Especially if the commenter thought Grassley's age was relevant. I am controversially against age discrimination and am for allowing voters to decide who their Senators are.

But perhaps Quiact is a resident of Iowa and therefore one of Senator Grassley's constituents. I would have to put my left or right foot in my mouth depending on the winds at the time.

Insurance is big business and if putting them out of business is going to be part of the Universal health care discussion, it will be a very long, unpaved road that will go nowhere. In my mostly uneducated opinion. I find lately that I'm usually wrong about everything, especially issues that involve politics, business, staying healthy, and everything else.

Bernard Carroll said...

One has to ask what exactly is the added value contributed by commercial health insurance as we know it in the US?

This is not a case of US for-profit health insurance being the worst system ever devised except for all the others. It is the worst system ever devised, period.

The failings of the industry are well known: bloated administrative costs, obscene executive compensation, discriminatory practices, denial of access, arbitrary discontinuation of coverage, de facto under-insurance of many workers and their families. The insurance industry is a major contributor to the poor national health outcomes of Americans.

This is a system worth saving?

Dora Jason said...

Alison, thanks for the impartial analysis of Senator Grassley's position. It can be hard to criticize those Senators, or more singularly, that Senator who has been leading the way in the fight for informed consent and human rights when it comes to the poisons being doled out to mostly poor and low-income Americans.

Despite this recent action by Senator Grassley, unlike the previous commenter, I'm not ready to say Grassley should go. Especially if the commenter thought Grassley's age was relevant. I am controversially against age discrimination and am for allowing voters to decide who their Senators are.

But perhaps Quiact is a resident of Iowa and therefore one of Senator Grassley's constituents. I would have to put my left or right foot in my mouth depending on the winds at the time.

Insurance is big business and if putting them out of business is going to be part of the Universal health care discussion, it will be a very long, unpaved road that will go nowhere. In my mostly uneducated opinion. I find lately that I'm usually wrong about everything, especially issues that involve politics, business, staying healthy, and everything else. ensure vs insure