Why Lobbyists Call the Shots in Health Care

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In the big health care debate, the BBC succinctly nailed one very important point: “A lot of powerful interests have a lot to lose.” That’s why so many organizations (health care companies and the American Medical Association in particular) are clamoring to spread their influence. And thus far, it’s pretty well proven that if they send their message—and their money, buckets and buckets of it—in the right direction, they get what they want.

FiveThirtyEight dissects complicated political data like nobody’s business. Among its latest findings is this: The more money a politician receives from health care lobbyists, the less likely he or she is to support a public option for health care. Shouldn’t be a shocker, but it makes clear there is a correlation between who a politician takes money from and how he or she votes. Check out the study and analysis here.

NPR just started a new series on tracking the money in the health care debate. In the next few days, the series plans on naming names among the most influential lobbyists—and what politicians they’re particularly cozy with. Again, the info coming out of this probably won’t shock anyone. But perhaps it’ll reveal precisely who takes what from whom, and how it affects the kind of health insurance Americans get.

If there’s any question about just how hard-hearted and profit-minded insurance companies can be, check out the Washington Post’s summary of a Senate hearing, in which three health-care insiders “testified that insurers go to great lengths to avoid responsibility for sick people, use deliberately incomprehensible documents to mislead consumers about their benefits, and sell ‘junk’ policies that do not cover needed care.”

Finally, there’s the AMA. Business Week says that the AMA will eventually support health care reform. Many observers have pointed out that the AMA is dominated by specialists who make $300,000 or more annually, and it’s these doctors who don’t want their situation changed. Primary care physicians, on the other hand, are far more likely to support reform. The Times quotes one such Chicago physician—who happened to be President Obama’s doctor when he lived in the city—bashing the AMA: “They may be protecting their interests, but they’re not protecting the interests of the American public.”

That same Times piece also quotes the American Medical Student Association, which gives me some hope for the future. The association issued a statement saying that it “not only supports but insists upon a public health insurance option.” Maybe we should be sending those AMA doctors back to school. Perhaps they’ll remember why they became doctors in the first place.

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