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POLICY: Health care astroturf gets me all grumpy

I wrote a scathing piece about an astroturf lobbying organziation that is pretending to be something it’s clearly not. My Spot-on editor Chris Nolan didn’t want me to be sued for libel, so the resulting slightly less caustic article is up there called Action and Reaction. My version was subtitled "Taking the piss."As ever come back here  to comment.

Back in the day when there was some vague interest from Democrats in fixing our health care system, a kindly millionaire gave a pile of money
to a lobbying pressure group that had quite some influence behind the
ill-fated Clinton Health Plan. Not too much has been heard since from
Families USA and its leader Ron Pollack. Sadly, those of us of a
certain age felt that its day in the sun had come and gone.
But what was interesting about Families USA was that, unlike
other Capitol Hill groups with "friendly" names, it actually lobbied
for things that might make pretty good sense to families, especially
poor ones. Namely national health insurance coverage that couldn’t be
taken away if the breadwinner got sick. Continue

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  1. My final comment Eric (not to get too far off topic)is that Iraq IS an issue and a symptom, of focus. We focus on war and fueling the “military/industral complex” because slimy politicians trolling for dollars and power is the accepted way in DC, while not trying to solve real problems like healthcare. Look what we could have done in four years if all the wasted attention and money had been poured into healthcare problems. But reducing healtcare spending stubbs the toes of the healthcare industry that somehow thinks we can change while keeping everything the same. If borrowing didn’t suit the rich and the corporations that bribe our policians it wouldn’t happen, if the obesity industry, aka Agri-business, that bribe our politicians didn’t put profits ahead of healthy food it wouldn’t happen. If free market/anti-gov/anti-regulation guys like you allowed taxing of junk food and other negative social behavior at least that would help pay for obesity and bad health (how’s that for personal responsibility). Litigation is a PITA for insurers and docs, it does not drive healthcare costs, technology costs a lot because there is no standardization (lack of regs, there’s that gov. thing again) and hospitals put themselves in a competitive mindset (free market solution) that says we need one on every corner. Ok 130K of regs. that does sound daunting and useless. If we got it down to say, a 1000, would that make you feel better or would that also be too many for a guy who wants the gov’mt to just go away?

  2. Peter- I am sorry I am not explaining myself well enough… that our system is unsustainable in its current form is a fact— this is true for healthcare and social security. It goes way beyond partisanship— and I hope you realize this. A democrat majority in the house from ’65-’94, a democrat president from 65-68 and 76-80 and 92-2000 did not solve it either. Equally responsible are the republicans, who frittered away a real majority to spend and spend (since the 98 midterms).
    But Iraq is not the issue— it has nothing to do with obesity, technology costs, end of life care, endless litigation, 130,000 pages of medicare regulations, etc.

  3. Eric,
    I’ve read a few articles on this. It looks like the Germans stuck it to physicians a little too hard. They can afford to give them raises in line with cost of living increases from here on (with a small extra boost now to make them happy) and still have a much lower total cost than the US, and a lower cost trend.

  4. My point Eric is you seem to think and trumpet those evil Canadian and Europeon systems as being unsustainable when the continued borrowing to prop up the American economic system is somehow, “sustainable” or at least honest economics. Anyone can cut taxes (for the rich) increase spending and size of government and run a war, when all you need to do is borrow, borrow, borrow. Reagan did it for 8 years and “conservatives” called him a genious. I thought the last link to the discussion, on global research.ca (hope it works), was a good examination of the U.S. situation, if you cared to read it. but I guess if it originates in Canada it’s socialist. As to my opinion on creative group names or creative legislation names, I think it’s all a snow job of communist-type propaganda. “Patriot Act”, vote against it you’re not a patriot, Operation “Just Cause” should be Operation “Just Because”, Operation Enduring Freedom should be Operation “Enduring Failure”, Operation Iraqi Freedom should have been Operation “Incompetence”, or Operation “We Need The Oil and Karl Rove Needs an Issue”.
    And John, nothing is going to make people eternally happy, but there are ways, instead of “Stay the course.”, that will work better. Those of us that support a single pay system are not naive or don’t want something for nothing, we want a better way. We don’t think that hiding our heads in the sand is a solution, we don’t think protecting personal economic postions is a substitute for fairness and justice, and we don’t think that waiting for a crisis is a good way out of a mess.

  5. Peter- not sure I get your post… though we disagree greatly on solutions, I think, from your links, you believe the country’s financial obligations are a real concern.
    The premise that only conservatives use creative group names is patently false– I would hope you can agree with me on this much.
    Mr. O.N. — THCB generally prefers debate with information- thanks. So if you could define the upper limit of poor, and what exactly someone who is ‘poor’ should and should not be able to pay for (food, housing?), and once they exceed ‘poor’, or nearly exceed poor, how much they can pay, I would appreciate it.
    Equating and HSA with ‘deserve to die’= ignorance.
    jd- the German system recently had physician strikes! (http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,1942544,00.html)
    To all — I am glad you are angry. You should be. But not at someone who believes that the single largest piece of our economy should devolve not even further into healthcare-by-lobbyist.
    BTW- participated in a meeting tonight with industry that would have made you all insane– and you would be very surprised at my POV. Everything comes back to federal regulations and laws that everyone seeks to meet the letter of while avoiding the spirit of…

  6. I think we should have a national health insurance system and live happily ever after.

  7. And let’s not forget that “those liberals” who are (stereotypically, loudly, and Fox-Newsedly) sooo bent on destroying life as we know it have pretty much given up convincing “those conservatives” who believe that poor people are a liberal myth. Let’s be clear: Poor, working people don’t have money to put into an HSA. They don’t have it. Not they don’t want to pay. They simply don’t have “a few hundred dollars.” They don’t have $10. They have nothing. So I guess, by “those conservatives'” definition, they deserve to die.
    Get it? Got it? Good.

  8. Matthew, you might as well delete the previous post as the links did not come out. I’ll try again.
    Yea right Eric, we have a sustainable system;
    http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/
    jul2004/nf20040729_9971_db045.htm
    http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/
    indicators_intlpict_20060918
    http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/
    indicators_intlpict_20060918
    http://money.cnn.com/2006/09/25/news/economy/
    foreign_debt/index.htm?section=money_topstories
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=ENG20061014&articleId=3482

  9. Eric,
    I wish you would try looking at the world without doing so with the goal of “proving” once again that free markets are always best.
    Your claim that other (“socialized”) health systems are failing is hyperbole. Or if they are failing, then our system is catastrophically failing. It costs more than twice as much per person and delivers nothing like that much added benefit. The US government pays as much per person on healthcare as other developed nations do. We already pay as much in taxes for healthcare as the French! And for that they insure everyone, whereas we do not come close and pay payroll taxes, deductibles, etc. on top.
    I agree that no nation is doing as well as it could, and should, but they are not all failing to an equal degree.
    Also, I really didn’t see the point of the extra dig you tried to deliver to Europe. To claim that the social fabric of European countries is failing is almost a joke. Where is there more poverty and financial insecurity? More illiteracy and inumeracy? More crime (especially violent crime)? More divorce? More child abuse? The US is worse than the Western European average on each of these scores by every measure I have seen.
    Yes, they have higher unemployment and the unions are too obstructionist. But you only ever seem to see what you want to see. The advantages of another way of doing things never seem to factor into your equations, only the disadvantages, and then it seems you make a few up to add to the mix. If the European social fabric is failing, then that in the United States has failed. Not from being too socialistic (or the Europeans would be worse than us), but from not employing public authority judiciously to structure incentives to maximize efficiency and efficacy rather than billable procedures.

  10. I’ve got one word for you, Matt: wikiturfing. This is more insidious than other sorts of astroturfing because the sheer size of Wikipedia gives it a commanding position in search engine rankings. A couple of PR interns and a few geekily-inclined doctors, and any criticism of your health care business will never see the light of day.
    Also, I just dropped you a “tip” note. How can you be missing the uproar over http://www.fixkp.org/ ?

  11. What I find most interesting is why it took 13 years for the astroturf gang(s) to “discover” and exploit the link between families and healthcare. Let’s hope they can put the “fun” in dysfunctional families, too.

  12. “up to half of care is not helpful, yet liberals demand people have more access to get more of it”
    Here’s a radical idea: Give patients access only to care that is proven helpful and refer them to providers who demonstrate that they deliver such care safely, effectively and efficiently.
    Oh, we often don’t know what care is likely to be helpful and what providers are most competent and cost-effective.
    OK, fair enough. Then shouldn’t we be focusing more of our efforts and resources in gaining, disseminating, and using that knowledge, and in enabling providers to deliver the best care humanly possible in the most efficient manner?
    Uh-Oh, it will cost too much to do gather all that data, do all that research, and transform our broken policies and practice so profoundly.
    Hmmm. If knowledge and profound transformation cost too much, then let’s shift more of the costs and decision-making to the consumer, deny care on economic grounds alone, pray that socialized medicine will be the magic bullet, or something of the sort. If nothing else, at least these things will keep the cost of research, knowledge-building, and information technology under control.
    This is wisdom?!?

  13. I think, Eric, that the days when the dreaded “S-word” (socialized) doesn’t scare people anymore the way it did before the Berlin wall fell. I don’t know anyone, lefty or righty, who’s worried that some new program might make us more like Sweden.
    And I sure don’t view the Trib as any paragon of centrist sensibility.

  14. Matthew– the conservatives have hardly cornered the market on group names that belie its supporters. So your argument there is more than a little hollow.
    For example– ‘the center for justice and democracy’= trial attorny organization.
    I could go on and on with the different names that union organizations use to ‘front’ their propositions and causes.
    You want to get angry? The reality is that socialized, national healthcare systems- real socialized national systems, are failing, as is the social fabric of the countries of Europe. From this article in today’s Chicago Tribune
    I take issue with some of the points in the article (the continued focus on the 98,000 deaths meme — perhaps we are due for a figure based on data less than 20 years old).
    I also take issue with the article’s transfer of focus from high costs everywhere to ‘nanotechnology’ which will only cost more and more…
    But the point is clear- national systems from Canada to Germany (recently getting over an actual strike) to Great Britain to France (may supposedly have good healthcare, but an unemployment rate that would cause riots– oh, I forgot, they already do have nightly riots)— are not successful or sustainable over the long term.
    Here’s my issue (or at least one of about 500…): up to half of care is not helpful, yet liberals demand people have more access to get more of it.

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