Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lobbyists, Health Care, and Open Secrets

In a report published by Open Secrets, a non-partisan guide to how money influences politics in the United States, the amount of money spent by lobbyists representing the health care industry is truly astounding.

According to a review of lobbyists' spending in Washington, D.C. during 2007, the health care industry itself spent $445 million dollars (nearly half a billion dollars) on lobbying contributions, 15.9% of all lobbying money spent during that calendar year.

Breaking down the numbers further, 51% of all healthcare lobbying was spent by---you guessed it---Big Pharma and medical products companies, for a total of $227 million.

Next, health insurance companies spent $138 million, and you can rest assured that they were not asking Congress to support universal healthcare legislation.

Following on the heels of health insurers, hospitals and nursing homes spent a paltry $91 million dollars, and interestingly enough, the American Medical Association itself spent $22.1 million on lobbying.

With all of this money flying around the halls of Congress in the form of dinners, golf games, campaign contributions, cruises, vacations, summer home rentals and the like, it's no wonder meaningful healthcare reform never seems to manifest itself. On average, $832,000 is spent on each member of the Senate and the House, money that is obviously paid to influence votes and potentially supercede the public interest.

As a nurse who sees the effects of a cumbersome and expensive healthcare system here on the ground, it is entirely unclear to me how so much money can legally be spent on buying power while the powerless struggle to make ends meet and care for their families.

When a senior citizen has to decide between food and prescriptions, something is wrong.

When a person becomes disabled but is forced to lose his home in order to pay his medical bills before his disability is approved, something is amiss.

When millions of children are still uninsured in this country, we are misguided.

When 45 million Americans lack health insurance, we are missing the point.

And when half a billion dollars can be frivolously spent on nothing but the purchasing of political power, we have lost our minds and our way.

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