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‘Blue Dogs’ paid to fight health care reform

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By Rick Howell

You’d expect conservative Republicans to stand in the way of meaningful health care reform. After all, they’ve been sharpening their rhetoric about “socialized medicine” for many decades.

    But when such actions come from those within the Democratic Party itself, the usual party of reform, well, you can bet there’s some money being spread out somewhere.

    It is, of course, and it’s going to the House caucus of “conservative” Democrats known as the “Blue Dogs.” This 51-member group has been lauded and courted by the financial contributions of the insurance and other health care companies for their dogged resistance to the Obama health care bill.

    A recent Washington Post story highlighted the courtship by these companies of Arkansas Rep. Mike Ross. This particular “Blue Dog” has received nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from the health care industry over the last five years.

    Altogether, Blue Dogs have received about 25 percent more of these contributions than other Democrats. Ross, after publicly complaining about the health care bill, was guest of honor at what the story called a “special health-care industry reception.” It was one of at least seven such fundraisers held for him this year alone by the health care industry.

    What companies are we talking about when it comes to filling the coffers of the Blue Dogs? The story identified drug manufacturers such as Pfizer and Novartis, insurers such as Wellpoint and Northwestern Mutual  Life, and industry organizations such as America’s Health Insurance Plans.

    So, those who think of profits first when it comes to health care, are busy doling out some of those profits to the appropriate legislators in order to ensure more profits for their corporations. Then they have the gall to go on television and paint themselves as working for “patients’ rights.”

    At some point, all Americans have to understand that in certain areas of life the profits of corporations just don’t matter in regard to the needs of the American people. Surely, health care is that most obvious area. Most other industrialized countries recognize this and they don’t allow health care “industries” to sponge off the basic medical needs of their people.

    Once, when health care reform was a big topic in the 1990s, I organized a health care forum that was sponsored by the newspaper for which I was working. During the course of research for that forum, I attended a statewide conference of Tennessee Health Insurers.

    You’re never seen a more nervous bunch of white guys in white shirts than those people. I asked one of them a very basic question he obviously hadn’t been asked before: “If you have a patient who needs care at one end of the spectrum, and a doctor or hospital at the other end that can provide that care, why do you need an insurance man in the middle making a profit?”

    He looked at me as though I was from another planet. But it’s time we recognized that this middleman system is just not getting the job done. They know it, too. But they’re not willing to admit failure and lose their profitable role. That’s why they’re spending billions to protect themselves against real reform.

    As for “Blue Dog” Democrats, well, unlike the other party, we Democrats really do have a big tent socially, racially, and in regard to gender in our party. But, no, most Democrats I know don’t have any illusions about being conservatives. Mike Ross and the others probably need to switch parties.

    But what America needs is real health care reform, and it won’t get it if the Blue Dogs and their allies in industry get their way.