Media and the Shrinking of Health Care Reform
Like soap in a rainstorm, "health care reform" is wasting away — sometimes accompanied by media euphemisms.
A leading follower of conventional media wisdom, journalist Cokie Roberts, told NPR listeners on Aug. 3: "This is evolving legislation. And the administration is now talking about a glide path towards universal coverage, rather than immediate universal coverage."
Notions of universal health care are fading in the power centers of politics — while more and more attention focuses on the care and feeding of the insurance industry.
Consider a new message that just went out from Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee, which inherited the Obama campaign's 13-million e-mail list. (It reaches more people than most of the biggest conventional mass-media outlets.) The short letter includes the same phrase seven times: "health insurance reform."
The difference between the promise of health care for everyone and the new mantra of health insurance reform is akin to what Mark Twain once described as "the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
The "health insurance reform" now being spun as "a glide path towards universal coverage" is apt to reinforce the huge power of the insurance, pharmaceutical and hospital industries in the United States.
President Obama says that he wants "things like preventing insurers from dropping people because of pre-existing conditions." Those are not fighting words for the present-day insurance industry. Behind the scenes, massive deals are taking shape.
The president of America's Health Insurance Plans, Karen Ignagni, "noted that the industry had endorsed many of the administration's proposed changes, including ending the practice of refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions," The New York Times reported. In a follow-up article, on Aug. 5, the newspaper added: "Rather than being cut out of the conversation, her strategy has been to push for changes her members can live with, in hopes of fending off too much government interference."
This year, no more significant news article on health care politics has appeared than the Aug.
It's enough to make you weep, or gnash your teeth with anger, or worry about the consequences for your loved ones — or the loved ones of people you'll never meet.
During his campaign last year, Obama criticized big pharmaceutical firms for blocking efforts to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. But since the election, the LA Times reports, "the industry's chief lobbyist" — former Congressman Billy Tauzin — "has morphed into the president's partner. He has been invited to the White House half a dozen times in recent months. There, he says, he eventually secured an agreement that the administration wouldn't try to overturn the very Medicare drug policy that Obama had criticized on the campaign trail."
The news in that story gets worse. For instance, "Tauzin said he had not only received the White House pledge to forswear Medicare drug price bargaining, but also a separate promise not to pursue another proposal Obama supported during the campaign: importing cheaper drugs from Canada or Europe."
Days ago, a New York Times headline proclaimed an emerging "consensus" and "common ground" on Capitol Hill. In passing, the article mentioned that lawmakers "agree on the need to provide federal subsidies to help make insurance affordable for people with modest incomes. For poor people, Medicaid eligibility would be expanded."
It's a scenario that amounts to expansion of health care ghettos nationwide. Medicaid's reimbursement rates for medical providers are so paltry that "Medicaid patient" is often a synonym for someone who can't find a doctor willing to help.
But what about "the public plan" — enabling the government to offer health insurance that would be an alternative to the wares of for-profit insurance firms? "Under pressure from industry and their lobbyists, the public plan has been watered down to a small and ineffectual option at best, if it ever survives to being enacted," says John Geyman, professor emeritus of family medicine at the University of Washington.
The likely result is a glide path to disaster.
Norman Solomon is the author of the book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death," which has been made into a documentary film. For information, go to: www.normansolomon.com.
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