Your health premiums at work, peddling influence in 50 states

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Health insurers, hospitals and even some state-level doctor groups are gearing up for the next battle against reform, in state capitols. So, just as insurance companies used your ever-rising premium dollars to coerce their employees into lobbying against a public option and a Medicare expansion, they’ll spend lavishly in the states to stop implementation of reforms.

You’re not surprised, are you? As long as the medical and insurance industries answer to Wall Street, not the needs of Main Street, it will be thus. But we know more about how it happens now–and have to keep making that link between political money and a many-fold return to insurance and pharmaceutical companies’ bottom lines. A story in today’s New York Times is a good start.

Money in State Politics.pngBased on data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the story tells us:

Like about a dozen other states, Florida is debating a proposed
amendment to its state constitution that would try to block, at least
symbolically, much of the proposed federal health care overhaul on the
grounds that it tramples individual liberty.

But what unites the proposal’s legislative backers is more than
ideology. Its 42 co-sponsors, all Republicans, were almost all
recipients of outsized campaign contributions from major health care
interests, a total of about $765,000 in 2008… 

It is just one example of how insurance companies, hospitals
and other health care interests have been positioning themselves in
statehouses around the country to influence the outcome of the proposed
health care overhaul. Around the 2008 election, the groups that provide
health care contributed about $102 million to state political campaigns
across the country, surpassing the $89 million the same donors spent at
the federal level, according to the institute.

The underlying study adds up $394 million given by major players in the health care industry over the last six years to state officeholders, party committees and ballot measure
committees in the 50 states. 

The pharmaceutical industry gives a particularly sharp example of how a health corporation reacts to a specific bottom-line threat: of the $168 million it spread around the states in that time period, $138 million was spent in 2005, and most of that went to defeat a California ballot measure that would have cut what the state paid for prescription drugs in its Medicaid program, Medi-Cal. 

In many states, particularly California, it takes only money to get a ballot initiative qualified. That’s exactly what Big Pharma did in 2005, putting an intentionally confusing ballot measure of its own against the one that would have nicked the companies’ bottom line–but substantially cut state spending on its health program for the poor. 

So look for legislative proposals and ballot measures that purport to protect "individual liberty," except that a corporation is the individual, and what’s being preserved is its liberty to send you to the poorhouse.

The corporations have endless ad budgets to sell their misleading campaigns as they hide behind fake consumer and taxpayer groups. But knowledge of where their influence money is going is a big step toward spurning their expensive fear-mongering.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
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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