If we want to know who is truly at the helm of our national healthcare reform effort, all we need to do is keep watching who is asked to provide official testimony and guidance to Congress and who is left out completely. Those decisions are made at the highest levels in our government and the choices are purposeful and meant to elicit just the information that will bolster a predetermined outcome.
Last week I wrote about Karen Ignagni, CEO of America's Health insurance Plans (the industry trade group known as AHIP) who was called on and recognized by President Barack Obama during his White House Summit on Healthcare Reform in late February and who was also the only "stakeholder" seated in the front of the room later for a briefing by the staff of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (the committee chaired by Senator Ted Kennedy). Clearly, Ignagni has been afforded a sort of access and status in this debate and in the reform effort that many others have not.
The fox isn't just in the hen house. The fox is building it.
I've got to hand it to Congress right now. Most members of Congress are making sure they remember "on which side of the toast you find the butter" in terms of making the for-profit health insurance industry comfortable in their deeply entrenched roles not only in our broken healthcare system but also in the deep-pocket funding of many Congressional campaigns. The insurance industry's influence is purchased with millions and millions in campaign contributions and with the preventable deaths of tens of thousands of American citizens every year. That is fact.
So why does it even warrant mention that the hearing this week to discuss health insurance reform has a witness list populated with industry-friendly voices, including Ignagni? I write this because it is so deeply dishonest and offensive to me that we are told we have an allegedly open and inclusive process to explore what's best for the nation's healthcare reform while the drafting and crafting thunders forward with very closed very elitist and very non-human rights oriented effort.
If healthcare is a basic human right, we must start from that truth and work forward in how to provide that basic human right to every person in this nation. Period. That is not Karen Ignagni's view. It is not her job. Her job - and she does it well - is to advocate for and protect her industry.
It's time for all of us who would like to hear nurses and patients and doctors tell their truths in these official hearings to let the committee chairs and their staff members know it and we're watching. Though we are not invited to testify, written testimony is always permitted. If we cannot secure appropriate discourse with wide representation of witnesses at these hearings, we should submit our own "expert testimony" in written form following every hearing. Unless and until we hold our government directly accountable for these issues, the abuses will continue.
And if the abuses continue, then Congress will give us health reform legislation based only on the testimony they wanted to hear rather than all the information they needed to consider. We'll not hear much from those who advocate for single payer - publicly funded, privately delivered - healthcare reform because no one who advocates that position is being asked to officially testify.
Below is the link to this week's Senate HELP Committee hearing and a copy of the witness list asked to help shape reform of health insurance. Do we really want insurance executives telling Congress how to reform their own industry? And then dictating that we all purchase their defective product? Do you suppose they'll pay themselves handsomely on our billions of dimes? It's not going to be good for this nation if we allow the industry that has so damaged us all to now determine the next half-century of American healthcare.
So, if you can, watch the hearing live (you can do so on-line via the link on the committee's website). And speak up about what you are experiencing at the hands of this industry.
You are the experts who are seeing the abuses. You are the cancer patients spending precious hours fighting insurance issues and billing pressure, bankruptcy and even foreclosure due to unpaid medical debt. You are the families burying loved ones denied care.
You are the American people who elect leaders and then expect sound governance from your Congressional representatives and senators. Your testimony is every bit as critical as any of those listed below. Write it. Print it out. Send it. Become the witnesses that should have been invited all along.
Witness list for Tuesday's Senate hearing on health insurance reform:
- Janet Trautwein, Executive Vice President and CEO, National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, VA
- Ronald A. Williams, MS, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Aetna Inc., Hartford, CT
- Karen Pollitz, M.P.P., Research Professor, Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University, Washington, DC
- Karen Ignagni, M.B.A., President and CEO, America's Health Insurance Plans, Washington, DC
- Len Nichols, Ph.D, Director, Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation, Washington, DC
- Katherine Baicker, PhD, Professor of Health Economics, Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health, Cambridge, MA
- Sandy Praeger, Health Insurance Commissioner, State of Kansas, Kansas City, KS