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Beware the Bad-Faith Reformer

Posted on May 14, 2009
ENTER_ALT_TEXT / ProgressOhio

Signs at a health care reform rally in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, in April.

By Joe Conason

Uplifting as it was to see insurance executives, pharmaceutical manufacturers, hospital officials and doctors gather at the White House on May 11, pledging cooperation toward health care reform, nothing they said or did was inconsistent with precisely the opposite objective. According to the famed pollster who is helping Republicans in Congress to block reform, in fact, the first critical step toward stopping real change is pretending to support it.

“You simply must be vocally and passionately on the side of reform,” urges a recent strategy memo authored by Frank Luntz, the opinion research expert who has counseled Republicans since the heyday of Newt Gingrich. “The status quo is no longer acceptable. If the dynamic becomes ‘President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it,’ then the battle is lost.”

The same advice that Mr. Luntz provided to the Republican Party leadership applies with equal force to the corporate opponents of reform, who appear to have grasped the political realities of the moment. So when the lobbyists who have long protected the profits and privileges of Medicine Inc. stand beside President Obama and declare their determination to help, they are simply following the script. Whether those organizations are actually willing to accept government action that will bring lower costs and universal care remains very much in doubt.

Taken at their word, the voices of the lobbyists sounded promising—especially in contrast to the multimillion-dollar propaganda war they launched against the Clinton administration’s attempt to reform the health system in 1993. In a letter to the president, they agreed to implement new measures that would reduce costs, presumably including some of the ideas that have been endorsed by the Obama administration. Without offering any details, the lobbyists estimated that their proposed changes would reduce the growth in health care costs by 1.5 percent annually—or about one-fifth of the current, unsustainable rate of 7 percent. In terms of the national budget, that would amount to approximately $2 trillion over the next 10 years.

Administration officials and many supporters of health care reform regard those promises as a sign of real progress. Of course, it is to be hoped that they are right. But it is equally likely that the times have changed more than the lobbyists—and that the real motive for the industry’s newly friendly posture is to foreclose the kinds of reform that would cut costs, expand coverage and outlaw the financial and medical abuses that demand reform.

How will we know if the lobbyists have truly reformed themselves? They would have to agree to implement the kinds of successful changes that transformed the Veterans Administration, including computerized health records and comparative effectiveness regimes. They would have to stop fighting government efforts to reduce the cost of drugs and medical devices. And perhaps they will even withdraw their ferocious opposition to a public insurance option—which would serve as what the old New Dealers used to call a “yardstick” to measure the performance of the private sector.

Serious reformers, including Andy Stern, the leader of the nation’s largest health care union, say they believe that the industry coalition is committed to real cost control. But for the moment, at least, the most prudent course is to assume that their goal is to preserve profits—and to achieve the goal laid out by Mr. Luntz in his memo to the Republicans.

“You’re not going to get what you want,” he warned, “but you can kill what they’re trying to do.”

Joe Conason writes for The New York Observer.

© 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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By Bud, May 18, 2009 at 3:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Is there anyway we the people,can start denying health care benefits to members of congress until almost 50,000,000 people in this,the wealthiest country in the world can achieve parity?These parasites in congress have the VERY BEST healthcare that the AMERICAN PUBLIC can provide!!!It is nothing short of obscene!

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By Fewkes, May 16, 2009 at 10:09 am Link to this comment

Our legislative history is littered with promises that were broken or forgotten by big businesses that made the promises to influence legislation to go their way.  If they were really serious they would include their promises as part of the legislation that they propose with some real criminal penalties if they failed to live up to their promises.  They won’t do that however.

Congress owes it to everyday Americans to stop ignoring us and provide the single payer Medicare type health care that the majority of us want.  It will keep the big insurance companies honest and deny them the monopoly status that they have now and have profited from at the expense of the millions without health insurance, the millions of underinsured and the thousands that have died waiting for healthcare.

It is time to stop the needless deaths of those of us who were unfortunate enough to get sick when we did not have insurance.  It is time to stop the needless deaths while we have the power to stop it.

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By Bud, May 16, 2009 at 4:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Did it ever occur to the average person why so many politicians,and bureaucrats are aligned in their fight against healthcare reform?Could it be because so much of their stock portfolio consists of pharmaceuticals,and health care facilities?After all,the USA does have a population that is avancing in age.I just received my homeowners premium notice in the mail last week.It increased $96.00 per year. Yesterday,I learned that ALLSTATE was one of five insurance companies that applied for aid from the stimulus package.Just another example folks.

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By Bose DeNage, May 15, 2009 at 2:51 pm Link to this comment

The medical-industrial complex will try to gut real reform just like the insurance folks killed HillaryCare, which would have given individuals real bargaining power via co-ops that negotiated services, fees &c. Providers had incentives to give good service lest 10k patients go elsewhere. Insurance is similar; if you’ve got a big enough group you can get ‘everything covered’ insurance at good prices.  The medical-industrial complex will oppose anything that empowers the patient.

The MDs & nurses I know are good people & despise insurance company bean-counters who care only about $.

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By Leefeller, May 15, 2009 at 10:34 am Link to this comment

Joe Conason, article has been vindicated, today the Medical lobbies have addressed Obamas statements as overly stated, in the health industries compliance to saving money and time tables.

Maybe Obama will not be so ready to accept a meeting with snakes, on discussions regarding the needs of mice.

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By Fadel Abdallah, May 15, 2009 at 9:20 am Link to this comment

I apologize for the fuzzy math of a previous post, whereby I missed 6 zeros from the calculation! I guess if these six missed zeros were to the left of the numbers, it wouldn’t have mattered! (Laugh!)

However, the essence of my proposal is still valid since it helps directly the average citizen, not only the big banks and corporations. I guess the figures I suggested could be reduced in half and yet would be significant enough to help in improving the bottom line of the financial crises for the taxpayers.

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By tropicgirl, May 15, 2009 at 9:13 am Link to this comment

Here is a message to Olzark, Ozark or Horseshack, whatever his name is…

This morning he said, “How can we move toward a high-quality, lower-cost system? There are four key steps: 1) health information technology, because we can’t improve what we don’t measure; 2) more research into what works and what doesn’t, so doctors don’t recommend treatments that don’t improve health; 3) prevention and wellness, so that people do the things that keep them healthy and avoid costs associated with health risks such as smoking and obesity; and 4) changes in financial incentives for providers so that they are incentivized rather than penalized for delivering high-quality care.”

Orzag, you are an insignificant little pinhead. You really are the last person who should be allowed anywhere NEAR healthcare. Here are some facts for you: 1) I work in a doctors office and there is NO WAY anyone wants to get involved with improving technology for insurance companies. We hate insurance companies. They employ practices that hurt us. So if you think, in any way, we are going to spend money improving our technology, you are mistaken. 2) Research into what works and what doesn’t work HAPPENS EVERY DAY IN A DOCTOR’S TEACHING ENVIRONMENT, NOT IN YOUR LITTLE PIN HEAD.  If you think YOU, or a BUNCH OF INSURANCE COMPANIES, or a bunch of politicians are going to decide what treatment works, YOU WILL BE FOUGHT TOOTH AND NAIL BY THE PROFESSIONALS. This is the heart of the problem with HMO’s. You are JUST NOT QUALIFIED unless you are a doctor. 3) Prevention and wellness is fine but traditionally HMO’s like the one you are cooking up do not cover the REAL preventative care… Nutrition counseling, acupuncture, chiropractic and physical therapy. These are the only things that have been proven to help in prevention and the insurance companies will never cover it, so IN ESSENCE, YOU ARE A HYPOCRITE HERE. 4) Changes in financial incentives is the most disturbing thought. Some day, you little pinhead, you will be forced to stop giving away tax dollars for INCENTIVES for THOSE WHO ROB US. Face facts and give whatever incentives you may conger up to the patient and the doctor. Most doctors want to give high-quality care but its YOUR BUDDIES, THE INSURANCE COMPANIES WHO PREVENT IT. All you have to do is ask a doctors office. But, oh, I forgot, you don’t consider us necessarily stakeholders. IF YOU DID YOU WOULD PUT SUPER-MEDICARE FOR ALL AT THE TOP OF THE LIST, WHERE IT WILL EVENTUALLY BE, AFTER YOU HAVE HARMED A LOT MORE PEOPLE.

And no one is buying your little bit about Medicare going bankrupt. From Ronald Reagan to Obama, the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds have been raided, to balance your inflated budgets, and you know it. YOU PEOPLE never met a savings account, owned by the people, that you didn’t want to raid and steal from.

Everything about what you propose is doomed to fail. Single payer, Super-Medicare for all is the only honest way to deal with this. Sure, maybe some people want to keep their employer health care, they get it for free on the back of their employers, who could ALL be hiring MORE PEOPLE instead of PAYING HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANIES FOR NOTHING. They may want it but the American economy can’t afford it anymore. But you, my friend, need to teach high school or something. In fact, perhaps a high school teacher would have a better grasp than you. I don’t know where you came from but you need to go back.

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By msteryis, May 15, 2009 at 8:55 am Link to this comment

Fadel, your math is shaky, to say the least. $300,000,000 x 1,000,000 = $300 trillion ($300,000,000,000,000) and $1,000,000 x 5,000,000 = $5 trillion ($5,000,000,000,000) for a total of $305 trillion. Good luck with that.

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By Fadel Abdallah, May 15, 2009 at 6:15 am Link to this comment

I have a proposal for a simple stimulus plan that would solve simultaneously the unemployment problem, the health care problem, the spending problem, the debt problem and the home-closure problem most middle class and poor citizens are facing.

The American population is estimated at 300 million. Give each individual a million dollar with the stipulation that they pay their mortgage in full, get health insurance for themselves and their dependents, pay all their credit card debt and invest the remainder in starting small businesses or investment. The cost of this package is 300,000,000 x 1,000,000 = $ 300,000,000; a very tiny fraction of the billions that are spent monthly and yearly on the evil imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and creating more enemies in every part of the world.

Furthermore, select one million from among the existing successful small business across the country and give each five million dollars, with the stipulation that they should expand their businesses and hire more workers and give them a generous health insurance. This will cost 1,000,000 x 5,000,000 = 50,000,000; again a very tiny fraction of what is spent monthly on the military machine in this country.

Furthermore, individuals or households whose assets or incomes exceed five million dollars could be excluded from receiving such assistance, thus bringing the cost of the package to even a lower figure.

This would have the effect of totally eliminating poverty and expanding the middle class whose survival and expansion is the essence of both the security and prosperity of America and the whole world.

I can see that only the few elites in the financial military, and political sectors would oppose this simple plan. I guess they can go to hell or find themselves a tiny island where they can live and die. Alternatively, we can build for them an ivory tower where they can live and die isolated from the general population.

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By Dave Schwab, May 15, 2009 at 3:22 am Link to this comment

It’s time to make sure that our Members of Congress understand us.

Tell your Members of Congress that, during the next six years, you won’t vote for any Member of Congress who doesn’t co-sponsor legislation to enact a single-payer health plan.

Take the single-payer pledge at

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By Gloria Picchetti, May 15, 2009 at 3:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If health care cannot be reformed then, at least, let euthanasia be legal. That will really create tax cuts for the wealthy who detest those of us who cannot find work.

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By KitCarson, May 14, 2009 at 6:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is not promising. It is like believing them for Big Pharma Drug Prescription reform. They made over a billion dollars additional in the first year following “reform” to provide prescription drugs.
Cut 1.5 per cent after years of 15 per cent annual growth? This is not a deal. They agree to restrict their previous greed?
Andy Stern is either being duped by them or belongs to them.
Should we trust the companies “promises”? Are you happy with your cable company? How about the “options” you have with your cell phone carrier? Look at how much they made in the recent years. Look at zillions of options - will decide or guess which is best for you? I can’t figure out my cell phone options nor my cable options.
Sounds like “Enron” again; AIG; Ameriquest; WorldCom; et cetera. Sounds like a chance to defraud the American public.
Trust them? Based on what?

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By TechnoShaman, May 14, 2009 at 5:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

My leg would have to be cut off before I would let the US medical industrial complex touch me. Then I would worry greatly about secondary infections because of their overuse of antibiotics.

In the meantime I will continue to use my acupuncturist as my primary healthcare provider, and use his herbs to cure my ills and will rely on him to give me sound advice to prevent future disease. Total cost of a visit (including the herbs) - $122.50.

My father was an MD who resigned from the AMA in the 60s when they switched from supporting doctors in providing healthcare to people, to corporate medicine (what an oxymoron). He was disgusted by the shift from doctors making decisions to bean counters. He was known to tell patients “if you don’t stop smoking, eating fried foods and start getting some exercise, I can’t be your doctor anymore. I’m very proud of my dad for sticking to his principles.

He was shocked a couple of years ago to learn that when our son went to the emergency room with a cut by his eye we had a $700 out of pocket cost (we had insurance at the time) for two stitches that were done with way too large a suture when glue or butterflys would have left little or no scar. Now he has a huge scar that will remind me everyday why I don’t trust the U.S. medical industrial complex. They don’t care about your health, they only want your money. In my dad’s day the ER visit would have been about $100 max.

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By Skwid, May 14, 2009 at 4:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Anyone have an idea how the taxpayers can get a loby? That seems to be the ONLY way to get what you want and have killed what you don’t…Maybe if we had some outrageously paid lobbists making absurd campaign “contributions” on our behalf we can get a single payer system…

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By Spiritgirl, May 14, 2009 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment

Is there anyone else that has that nauseous feeling after seeing the insurance industry agreeing to “contain costs”?  Since they did the same thing back when the Clinton’s were trying to reform the system, why are we the people falling for the okey-doke again?


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By a_ney, May 14, 2009 at 1:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Single-Payer NOW!

“in fact, the first critical step toward stopping real change is pretending to support it.”

it is called Co-Opting, a classic strategy of population manipulation.
if it has been a Republican strategy in the past, the Democrats are taking it as their own!

the Democrats are just as guilty of this co-option.  universal coverage, the Obama Plan, is simply a diversion in favor of for-profit insurance.  a bailout for another corporate industry.  an enormous subsidy for paper-pushers, healthcare DENIERS and campaign donors!


Single-Payer is the solution preferred by doctors, nurses and voters!

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By G.Anderson, May 14, 2009 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment

“in fact, the first critical step toward stopping real change is pretending to support it.”

Yes, exactly, this is classic right wing stategy, used successfully, to turn agencies like EAP and FDA into agencies whose aims support the corporations they are supposed to be regulating.

The HMO’s, are out to wreck health care reform, to keep it from being anything but a big pay day for them, and all the faults they will find in a government backed plan, are ones they have commited for decades.

Who restricts care? Who makes claim payment impossible? Who makes it hard to find care? The HMO’s, and they’ve been fined millions doing just that. But the fines weren’t large enough to keep them from doing it again and again.

What country is your doctor from, your nurse? Do they speak English? Do, they do more than a drive by check up? Were they brought to this country on a work visa, by greedy HMO’s, who complained of nurse shortages, but didn’t want to pay nurses what they were worth? The same companies, that understaff, and over charge for everything? The same companies that work their staff to death.

Marx was right, the more productive a worker is the less their employer values them, I guess that’s why management at the HMO’s make millions in bonuses.

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By mark, May 14, 2009 at 11:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

No one who depends upon the status quo for their wealth, power or influence will voluntarily relinquish any part of their attainment. They would sooner expend vast amounts of money and resources fighting reform than giving up any part of the status quo.

Large sums of money will be spent by Medicine, Inc to “lobby” the congress persons who purport to represent the people.

Medicine, Inc. will thwart any real attempts at healthcare reform. The current system works just fine - for them.

What you have here is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They have every reason in the world to want to be included in the process. Being on the inside allows them to obstruct and sabotage with greater ease.

The healthcare reform process will result in (a) no progress at all or (b) a miserably crafted solution - one that serves no one to any good extent.

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