January 2, 2010

Looking for transparency

It’s hard to cut through the crap.

Over the past many months, we’ve been bombarded with claims and counter-claims regarding health care reform. It’s likely to continue for the next several weeks with no real resolution in sight for the American people.

From assertions that we have the “best health care system in the world” to protestations that it’s “a broken health care system,” politicians and analysts of all stripes have hashed and re-hashed the topic with much hoopla but little clarity. Most of the dialogue has been in a less than thoughtful context, usually displayed in “point-counterpoint” sound bites with little substance.

We remain skeptical of the hyperbole offered from both sides of this squabble, but each has offered at least some evidence to justify their position – so it’s easy to be confused by the babble surrounding this important issue.

Passage of the Senate health care bill in the wee hours of December 21st was tainted with “compromise.” $100 million for the University Hospital in Senator Chris Dodd’s home state of Connecticut; exemptions from insurance fees for Michigan Blue Cross/Blue Shield; giving Florida a $ 3 billion to $5 billion sweetheart exemption from losing Medicare Advantage benefits; and numerous other deals.

None was more egregious than the $100 million federal payment for new Medicaid coverage in Nebraska – as well as an exemption from an insurance fee for Nebraska Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Mutual of Omaha.

Only days earlier, while visiting the Cornhusker state, we heard local radio stations playing sound bites in which Nebraska’s U.S. Senator Ben Nelson denied allegations that he and Nebraska had been threatened with federal cuts, if he didn’t support the administration’s health bill.

Rather than asking Nelson if he’d been threatened, reporters should have been asking him if he had been approached with bribes….er, “compromises.” Despite proclaiming that his vote “wasn’t for sale,” it was only a matter of hours before Nelson signed on to the health care package, greasing the skids to Nebraska for lots of federal money – at the expense of all other states.

But even these distasteful events weren’t what left us most disheartened.

Rather, it was the assurances offered earlier by President Obama that health care reform discussions would be out in the open and involve a wide range of players. They would even be aired on C-SPAN, he said. This turned out to be not true. There’ve been allegations that few senators even read the 2,100 page bill.

And when it comes time for a conference between the House and Senate versions of health care reform, it seems the president has chosen the West Wing of the White House as the location.

We believe our health care system is in serious need of reform, and we’re unconvinced that Congress is moving in the right direction. The fact that it has been back-room politics as usual, rather than the promised open deliberations, leaves us wondering if the only thing needing more attention than health care might be the Obama administration claim to "openness."

It’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see cameras in the West Wing, but President Obama could go a long way toward regaining citizen support by re-visiting his promise of government transparency and pushing for 11th hour C-SPAN coverage of this enormously important subject. But don't hold your breath.

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