As we recall, a high-profile event at the White House in May 2009 brought together most of the major corporate stakeholders in the U. S. health care system in an effort to build momentum toward reform. The Obama Administration welcomed the cooperative spirit and combined pledges of some stakeholders to shave 1.5 percent off the growth in health care spending over ten years, amounting to “savings” of about $2 trillion. The meeting was proclaimed “an historic event” boding well for the goals of reform — gaining near-universal coverage to affordable health care while reining in costs and improving quality of care.

Having considered the voluntary, unenforceable pledges, together with the agendas and subsequent actions by five of the major stakeholders, it is now useful to re-assess the impacts on reform by the corporate “alliance” struck at that time. Table 1 summarizes the pledges and agendas, as well as the tactics and likely rewards, for the Big Five stakeholders.

As is evident from Table 1, all five stakeholders, with the possible exception of some
Large employers, will do well with health care reform along the lines of bills now before Congress. The House bill (H.R. 3200), with a cost of some $1 trillion over 10 years and without effective cost containment mechanisms, would add greatly to the revenues of all corporate stakeholders in the medical industrial complex. Their revenues, of course, are our costs, especially since the insurance industry will likely be protected by lenient standards (such as by a requirement being considered by the Senate Finance Committee that insurance should have to cover only 65 percent of health care costs).

The Big Five that we have looked at are only part of the cost problem. There are many other major players in the health care industry, mostly investor-owned, with a primary mission to make money, not save the money of either patients, their families or taxpayers. These players range from medical device and medical equipment industries to nursing homes to information technology. As just one example, General Electric, the 12th largest corporation in the world, has a big market share for imaging equipment and information technology. It has initiated a big national advertising campaign supporting health care reform, while its lobbyists fight against cuts in Medicare reimbursement for imaging procedures.

Congress goes on break, health lobbying heats up. Wall Street Journal, August 5, 2009: A1) The 3,300 lobbyists now in Washington, D.C. lobbying for one or another health
care interest, for or against specific provisions in the proposals before Congress, are
consuming $1.4 million dollars a day in this effort.

Most health care industries welcome government subsidies to grow the insured
population, but not at the price of burdensome regulation. There is little common ground among the stakeholders in the medical industrial complex except the goal to expand markets and grow future profits for each industry The “alliance” is in name only, hardly partners in most instances. When their respective interests conflict with other corporate stakeholders, the circular firing squad starts shooting. Examples include the insurance trade group AHIP’s battle against physicians’ high out-of-network fees, while medical organizations sue insurers for non-payment of fees and call for elimination of overpayments to private Medicare plans.

As the battles rage on between and among corporate stakeholders, their lobbyists, and reformers in and out of government, the public interest is being overlooked as stakeholders work toward carving out a bigger piece of an expanded pie for themselves. The neutering of the public option is but one of many examples whereby the public is losing out. (Link to Blog 21) Instead of cost-containment in a reform bill, we can expect to see continued inflation of health care costs at rates much higher than cost-of-living or median wages. Judging from the bills taking shape in Congress, the outcome will be a bonanza for health care industries and a bail-out for an unaffordable and dying insurance industry.

Bob Herbert, well-known Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, is right on target with this observation:

“The drug companies, the insurance industry and the rest of the corporate high-
rollers have their tentacles all over this so-called reform effort, squeezing it for
all it’s worth. Meanwhile, the public — struggling with the worst economic
downturn since the 1930s — is looking on with great anxiety and confusion. If
the drug companies and the insurance industry are smiling, it can only mean that
the public interest is being left behind.”

John Geyman, M.D. is the author of The Cancer Generation and Do Not Resuscitate: Why the Health Insurance Industry is Dying, and How We Must Replace It, 2008. With permission of the publisher, Common Courage Press

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