Monday, April 16, 2007

Senate Finance Committee Deep in Pockets of Private Sector Health Companies

As the Congress wrestles with ways to cover more uninsured people while spending existing dollars more effectively, it's encountering some inertia. Members of the Senate Finance Committee received significant campaign donations from health insurance companies and for-profit hospital firms.

Their ties to health insurors slowed the Democrats appetite to cut funding for Medicare Advantage programs to the level of the average Medicare recipient. The 12 percent higher fees paid by the government accrue to health insurance companies. Both Republicans and Democrats benefit from their cozy relationship with WellPoint, United Health, Humana and Aetna. The health insurance sector donated $7.4 million ($4.5 million to Republicans & $2.9 million to Democrats) the last election cycle and $32 million lobbying the last two years.

The Finance Committee's ties to for-profit health care is evidenced by Senator Chuck Grassley's parroting their favorite position, the unfair advantage nonprofit community hospitals have with their tax exemption. Chuck is concerned about huge executive and board member pay.

Here's a hint Chuck. Recall Sallie Mae? The once government services organization moved over to that "more efficient" private sector. Does Chuck know how much they pay their board members annually? Each makes well over $200,000 a year but that's not all. With the proposed Sallie Mae buyout, the least a board member will gross is $7.7 million.

While Chuck and Congress dragged their feet on the growing legions of uninsureds, 80-90% of community hospitals suffered some form of financial distress. This estimate came from Denny Shelton, CEO of for-profit Triad Hospitals as he explained why the company had so many good acquisition candidates.

Just like Chuck Grassley, Evan Bayh, Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, and many more sold out to private sector health companies, your local nonprofit community hospital may soon do the same. Is that what our country needs? No, but when the pocketbook is our only criteria, that's what we get...

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