What “rationing” really means

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The early messengers of health-care doom and socialism aren’t
looking so good. Start with Rick Scott, the disgraced former head of
fraud-ridden health care company Columbia/HCA. Then there’s Sen. Jon Kyl of
Arizona, who huffily says he only wants to protect Americans from
government-determined health care, but is near the top Congressional
recipients of health insurance and pharmaceutical bucks. Here’s the
gist from today’s New York Times story on Scott, who left HCA in shame but with hundreds of millions in company stock:

Mr. Scott is starring in his own rotation of advertisements against the
broad outlines of President Obama’s health care plans. ("Imagine waking
up one day and all your medical decisions are made by a central,
national board," he warns in a radio spot.) He has dispatched camera
crews to other countries to document the perils of socialized medicine.

visited with lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week, and his new group,
Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, has hired a leading conservative
public relations firm, CRC, well known for its work with Swift Boat
Veterans for Truth, the group that attacked Senator John Kerry,
Democrat of Massachusetts, during his presidential campaign.

Scott’s emergence this spring as the most visible conservative opponent
to Mr. Obama’s not-fully-defined health care effort has former friends
and foes alike doing double takes, given Mr. Scott’s history.

lauded for building Columbia/HCA into the largest health care company
in the world, Mr. Scott was ousted by his own board of directors in
1997 amid the nation’s biggest health care fraud scandal. The company’s
guilty plea and payment of $1.7 billion to settle charges including the
overbilling of state and federal health programs was taken as a
repudiation of Mr. Scott’s relentless bottom-line approach.

hopes people don’t Google his name," said John E. Hartwig, a former
deputy inspector general at the Department of Health and Human
Services, one of various state and federal agencies that investigated
Columbia/HCA when Mr. Scott was its chief executive.

(Chris Hayes of the Nation has many more juicy tales of
how Scott’s company ripped off the government while touting the free
market) Yet Scott can still influence public opinion. Really, all that
takes is a fortune (Scott’s was estimated way back in 1995 at $250
million) and a good, slimy ad man.

Scott, now has his own chain
of mini-clinics operating out of Wal-Mart. He calls his health reform
smear campaign "Conservatives for Patient’s Rights," even though
Scott’s most famous quote, in The Nation magazine (subscription barrier) in 1996, is this: "Do we have an obligation to
provide health care for everybody? Where do we draw the line? Is any
fast food restaurant obligated to feed everyone who shows up?"

What’s notable about Sen. Kyl of Arizona is a little less visible. 

in the Senate, Kyl called for an amendment to the federal budget bill
that would expressly forbid Medicare and other federal health programs
from using results of comparative effectiveness research to deny
coverage of any treatments. "The government can use it as a tool to
ration or deny health care," he fretted.

measuring comparative effectiveness–of drugs, of treatments, of
hospitals–is crucial to effective health care. Insurance companies
ration care every day through treatment denials and refusals to pay.
They do it erratically, often cruelly, and without any industrywide
guidelines. The uninsured get the harshest rationing of all.

really, all that Kyl is doing is providing sound bites and talking
points for the campaign against any "public option" like Medicare in
the health reform mix. And there’s a question of whose interests he
really has in mind.

Kyl received $90,450 from insurance
companies and $118,350 from drug companies in the last two federal
election cycles, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.org for
Consumer Watchdog. He’s in the Top 10 in Congress, and barely under the
top Democratic recipient, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, who is leading
Senate health reform efforts (That’s another problem, having to worry
about "friends” who take so much money from insurers and drug makers.
To watch what Baucus is doing, see the excellent "Baucus Watch" by longtime health reporter Trudy Lieberman in Columbia Journalism Review).

friends of the failed free market in health care fulminate about
"rationing," they’re only talking about preserving private profits.
They’re perfectly happy to let private companies like Scott’s turn away
patients, deny services and ration on behalf of their bottom line. For
instance, Scott’s former chain bought up and ruthlessly closed nonprofit hospitals, sometimes stranding residents far from care.

They want accountants, not science, to decide what care Americans should get–and whether they should get it at all.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdoghttps://consumerwatchdog.org
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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