I remember flying around Montana on a national HMO patients' rights tour when Democratic US Senator Max Baucus was positioning himself as the real HMO reformer compared to longtime Republican US Senator from Montana Conrad Burns. Now Baucus, as the Chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, is positioned to dictate the terms of health care reform on Capitol Hill. Senator Ted Kennedy has even anointed him as his deputy-in-absentia.
The problem is a new study of campaign contributions by Consumer Watchdog shows Baucus is the top Democratic donee on the Hill from the HMO and drug industries, raking in $183,750 from health insurance companies and $229,020 from drug companies, during the last two election cycles. And Baucus did not have a serious challenge at the polls, winning reelection by a landslide. The top 10 donees in Congress received $2.2 million from health insurers and $3.3 million from drug companies.
Responding to the Washington Post regarding the study, Baucus's spokesperson said the money didn't matter, that Baucus would be tough on industry. Unfortunately, Senator Baucus's positions are a little too close to the HMOs' and drug companies'. Last week he pooh-poohed President Obama's effort to raise taxes on the wealthy to finance a health care overhaul. At last week's White House summit on health reform, Senator
Baucus said that the insurance companies and drug companies had told
him they would help drive a solution.
Baucus's own plan would require every American to show proof of insurance, with those who do not receive coverage from an employer or are not in Medicaid or Medicare forced to buy a private health insurance policy. Failure to show proof of insurance would result in tax fines. This is the insurance industry's favored policy.
Campaign contributions may be the mother's milk of politics, but HMO and drug company money threatens to sour Obamacare. The hope is that the president can focus public opinion on where Congress needs to deliver to guarantee real affordable, accessible health care. He must stick to the principles that elected him, not the will of a Congress that has accepted $24 million from the HMOs and drug companies during the last election cycle. In the end the president will have to answer to the public, not the HMOs, drug companies or Congress. Patients will know what they are paying and what they are getting. President Obama needs to use his mandate to make reform real, not another fraud on the American people by the Potomac populists.