Washington Post’s “Salon” Disaster and Health Care Reform

As a former citizen of the Washington Post newsroom, the recent disaster about the newspaper’s “salon” project is heartbreaking and embarrassing.

I won’t belabor the issues many others have so thoroughly covered, including today’s  “apology” by publisher Katharine Weymouth, which feels a bit short of fulsome. 

Instead I want to point out something that’s gotten lost in the media frenzy: That
the topic of the first “salon” [sorry, I find I have to use quotes when
referring to that] was to have been health care reform.

As an independent journalist [among other things] and participant in
the “health 2.0″ movement, I find this particularly distressing.

The fact that Weymouth and her team identified health care reform as
the first ripe target for a scheme to bring together “the powerful
few”: CEOs/lobbyists, “Congressional and Administration officials” and
Washington Post health care reporting and editorial staff” demonstrates
the peril faced by the group with the biggest stake in health care

I refer, of course, to patients.

Significantly, Weymouth did not invite to her “salon”
anybody living with a chronic disease, or someone who lost her health
insurance when she lost her job, or anyone who has declared bankruptcy
under the burden of paying for a loved one’s brain surgery.

Now I suppose the patient community could have raised $25,000 to
sponsor the event and buy a seat at the table. [We could have all
chipped in for some nice clothes and a haircut, so our rep could fit
right in.]

Imagine how
the conversation would have been different if that patient advocate had
co-sponsored the meeting of members of Congress and Administration
officials, to say nothing of the top leaders in the Washington Post

A fatuous fantasy, I know, laughable on its face.

But it illustrates how once again that–despite what appear to be
sincere efforts to introduce patient-centric healthcare reform by some
members of Congress and the Administration–the very people who are the
ultimate beneficiaries or victims of healthcare reform are offered no
seat a the table.

Not even Katharine Weymouth’s dinner table.

Three weeks ago, a number of other “stakeholders” in healthcare reform created something called a Declaration of Health Data Rights,
a statement that spells out what rights patients have to the electronic
information about their care to be gathered as part of any healthcare
reform plan. [Interest revealed: I signed onto it and agreed to blog on it as part of a publicity campaign.]

As I’ve argued
before, things like the Declaration are necessary because patients
don’t really have access to the process when the difficult, ethically
complicated, legally messy and often sneaky and malicious work of
making healthcare law takes place.

There are many reasons to be disgusted with the Washington Post’s salon misadventure.

The fact that it demonstrated a reflexive Washington habit of
gathering an exclusive cabal of the most powerful and moneyed interests
to discuss such an important issue may be the most disgusting of all.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say
it again: Patients are going to have to force themselves into this
debate against the resistance and indifference of the Washington
establishment. Patients cannot afford the luxury of deference and

And so I repeat the rallying cry: Patients: Aux barricades!

5 replies »

  1. As a 25 year healthcare consultant and executive who has worked all sides of the aisle as well as lived abroad and been hospitalized in the UK’s NHS with a nasty bout of pneumonia, I want to offer another perspective that acknoweges the desperate need for reform but a surgical intervention focusing on each stakeholder and the ir role in inflating cost, delivering unnecessary care, inflating administrative expenses and not taking responsibility for their personal health.
    Consider the following published columns:

  2. Want to see the health care get fixed in a large hurry? Take away the incredibly generous benefits (taxpayer funded benefits) that our legislators currently enjoy and replace them with the worst money grubbing for profit HMO the country has to offer and things will be fixed immediately. The truth is that Congress has no incentive to fix a system, that for them, is not broken.

  3. Great post, Craig. This is just another example of the flawed system in this country. Too many people think that their role is to vote and then complain when they don’t like what their elected officials have done. The citizenry has to do a better job of voicing its displeasure in an organized manner, but also expressing its desire to be part of the solution.
    Those who speak the loudest, win. That’s why the lobbyists win. It could be argued that it’s why PCPs are paid so much less than specialists. Specialists are better at lobbying and have taken over the AMA.
    All stakeholders need to be at the table. Not just doctors and insurance companies, and certainly not just congressmen.

  4. “what appear to be sincere efforts to introduce patient-centric healthcare reform by some members of Congress and the Administration”
    What has Obama EVER done to make someone think he cares about the patient? He will SELL his reform as benefiting patients but it is far from the truth. There are 1 million little things that could be done to greatly improve the patient experience in healthcare, they would cost nothing or even save money. Have you once heard Obama ask Congress or suggest publicly that any of those be written up and sent to him to sign? If Obama cared one lick about the patients he would first pass the non controversal aspects of reform that everyone agrees on and that would surely benefit patients then in a seperate bill fight it out for the ideological reform he wants.
    Typical reporter writing, you cover for the establishment you are so much a part of. The biggest threat to patients now is the fact journalism is dead. I have never read a meaningful article on healthcare reform from any major media outlet. Media is only concerned about the politics of the issue and advancing their own idelogical goals that the public is completly clueless about what is going on.
    What is happening today is a mirror image of how Medicare was passed, complete lies and back room dealing and look at the mess we are in now because of it. Have you ever read an article from the MSM comparing passage of Medicare to today? How is that not news? How can so many oceans of ink be wasted on healthcare reform and not one article discussing how we got in this sitution?
    No one should be shocked at the “salon” sell out, it’s only amazing that it was actually reported.

  5. It is a proven fact in history. Only time history changes is when someone from that cabal splits and leads a movement. I am not a historian but here are two examples: Slavery was not ended by blacks but whites – read Abe. The foundation of Indian National Congress was done by Annie Bassent a brit. Gandhi joined it when he went to india.
    So what we need here, is a concerted effort.
    I have said on my blog and would say it here: Let us dedicate a Healthcare Day and have march infront of each city houses and then to Washington Mall.
    Nothing sort of healthcare for all should be acceptable. Those who do not have money to eat, canot pay insurance. It should be free with small co-pays to reduce the abuse.