Buying power 

Health care reform shows the corruption of Congress

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

Those words, written by Thomas Jefferson at the birth of our nation, ring true more than two centuries later. The proof is in the on-going health care debate and the undue influence being exercised by insurance, medical and health management corporations—influence bought and paid for by hundreds of millions in campaign contributions to members of Congress. Now, more than ever, the corruption of Congress has been laid bare for the people to see, and a sorry sight it is.

In a tremendous piece of reporting last weekend, Lee Capitol Bureau reporter Mike Dennison exposed the ugly truth of money and influence in an article titled, "Senator Baucus backed heavily by health interests: Montana senator received nearly a quarter of all campaign funds from health, insurance groups."

Dennison took the time to look through Baucus' campaign contributions since 2003 and the results were nothing short of astounding. "In the past six years, nearly one-fourth of every dime raised by Sen. Baucus and his political action committee has come from groups and individuals associated with drug companies, insurers, hospitals, medical supply firms, health-service companies and other health professionals. These donations total about $3.4 million, or $1,500 dollars a day, every day, from January 2003 through 2008."

To put that in perspective, the average per capita income in Montana for 2007 according the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis, was $32,458. That means every three weeks our senator took the same amount in political contributions from insurance and health care special interests that average Montanans—his constituents—spent a full year trying to earn.

Baucus' good friend and Republican counterpart on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, raised even more than Baucus, raking in 23.5 percent of his total campaign funds from health, insurance and pharmaceutical drug industry sources. Together, Baucus and Grassley control the committee that is currently seeking to "reform" America's broken health care system.

When you consider these stunning numbers—and they are being discussed more widely in more venues than ever before—it's easy to see why single-payer, or universal health care, is "off the table" according to Baucus and Grassley. The whip, as they say, has been cracked over their heads by their corporate contributors and the last thing the insurance, drug and medical companies want is government-sponsored universal health care that virtually all developed nations make available to their citizens.

In a pitiful attempt to deflect Dennison's findings, Baucus spokesman Ty Matsdorf is quoted in the article saying: "No matter the issue, Max always puts Montana first. Max will continue to do what's right for our state, and groups like SEIU and AARP wouldn't line up in support of his health care reform effort if this wasn't true." What Matsdorf neglected to add is that AARP, the Association of American Retired Persons, is also a health insurance company—and AARP, like most health insurance companies, would undoubtedly see their profits crumble or disappear entirely should America enact universal health care for its citizens.

It is no secret that Baucus has been getting hammered in his home state for the last month on his refusal to consider single-payer health care as a viable option to America's health care crisis. When the anger of Montanans first began to bubble up, Baucus sent out his staffers to hold "listening sessions" statewide to supposedly hear what Montanans, whom Baucus called his "bosses," had to say. What they said was simple—give us universal health care, not mandated insurance. A week later, Montanans for Single-payer staged rallies at Baucus' offices statewide, drawing hundreds of citizens to once again restate their preference for universal health care with no co-payments, no deductibles, no exclusions for pre-existing conditions and no huge profit margin for insurance companies. That message came across loud and clear, but it was not what our senator wanted to hear. Instead, Baucus continues to claim that single-payer health care has no chance in Congress, so there's no use in pursuing it. Even worse, Baucus has started to push back against his own constituents, trying to convince us that we are wrong.

What we have been offered instead is a growing mish-mash of incomprehensibly complex options, virtually all of which keep the insurance industry firmly between Americans and their doctors. The latest incarnation in this game of corporate-sponsored musical chairs is a phony health co-op scheme to set up government-sponsored co-ops that would merely add to the confusion, cost and inefficiencies of our current system instead of actually providing a real solution to our nation's health care woes.

It is obvious that the corporations have targeted the Senate with good reason. Any individual senator—and there are only 100 in our nation of 300 million citizens—wields tremendous power compared to their counterparts in the House. Why try to influence 434 House members when having a senator or two in the corporate corner is all you need to stop almost any legislation from passing?

Over in the House, where HR 676, the single-payer health care reform bill, continues to make progress, things are a little different. Far from saying, "It can't pass," the measure now has some 82 co-sponsors and has had a hearing where single-payer advocates made their case. While all the murky details of the Senate's mumbo-jumbo continue to linger in the dark, the white light of single-payer, something people can understand, moves ahead.

That America's senators find themselves under increased scrutiny is well deserved. But here's something those same deep-pocket senators might want to consider: A short time ago the CBC held a contest to name the Greatest Canadian in history. Guess who won? Tommy Douglas, the politician who brought universal health care to his nation. Are you listening, Max? The Cave:Advertising:02 Production Art:IndyLogoDingbat2002.tifB:'ions and",,"")>

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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