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What if the Fad Was Med Reform, not Ed Reform?

06/13/2011 01:46 pm ET | Updated Aug 13, 2011

What if corporate honchos, politicos and other non-professionals decided to give up on education and stick their reforming noses into medicine instead? (We know that Bill Gates is already doing this in Africa, so it's not so far-fetched). If past performance is any indication of future actions, here's what they might do:

1) Fear-monger about U.S. health statistics

The Med Reformers would start out by spending a couple of million dollars on a public relations campaign that would include getting the media to write screaming headlines about the dire state of medicine in the U.S.

So, for example, this recent (true) story about the high U.S. maternal and infant mortality rate would have been on the front page, not buried towards the back:

A woman in the U.S. is more than seven times as likely as a woman in Italy or Ireland to die from pregnancy-related causes and her risk of maternal death is 15-fold that of a woman in Greece.... An American child is twice as likely as a child in Finland, Greece, Iceland, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovenia, Singapore or Sweden to die before reaching age five.

The report would, of course, omit any legitimate theories about why this problem might exist, although there have long been proven links between maternal and infant mortality and, for example, poverty.

Instead, the media spin would simply be that we are falling behind and we must reclaim our position of health dominance in the world.

2) Establish astroturf "medical advocacy" groups

The Med Reformers' next step would be to pretend this was a genuine movement by spending several hundreds of millions of dollars setting up front groups across the country staffed by "parents" and other "just folks" who would somehow be able to afford glitzy web sites and to issue hundred page reports about the dire state of medicine in America.

"Our children's future is in jeopardy!" one of these web sites might cry.

The astroturf groups would pretend to be "nonpartisan" and "independent" but would in fact have the funds to spend weeks hanging around your state capital testifying at health issue hearings that no one else finds out about until it's too late, promoting legislation that was actually written at Astroturf Central-USA, and convincing legislators that they will be hailed as courageous heroes if they pass the favored medical legislation.

3) Turn doctors into the enemy

Polls historically show that doctors are among the most respected professionals. Med Reformers would work to undermine public trust in doctors, attacking the quality of care, accusing them of being in it just for the money, and creating a mythology of the heroic "caring intern."

Med Reformers would feed the media with stories about brash, courageous young medical students who saved the lives of patients whose doctors were off polishing their golf clubs, ignoring life-threatening conditions. Hospitals would be urged to fire experienced surgeons and replace them with interns whose only preparation is a six-week surgical course. The interns would have no real interest in actually becoming doctors; the surgical gig would just be a way to pad their resumes for future work as HMO administrators, deciding which procedures we all really need and what the HMO will pay for.

4) Produce a movie!

It might be called "Waiting for Dr. Livingston," and it would probably show a lot of adorable, low-income children sitting in a hospital, their fevers spiking as they wait for a doctor. The scene would cut to a shot of doctors playing golf. Then, some of the children would be given a chance to go to a fancy, privately-funded clinic with all the bells and whistles of medical technology. The movie would cut back to the hospital where, I'm sorry, some of the children would actually die. This would outrage people - not enough to insist on national health care, but certainly enough to motivate them to donate more money to the clinic for even more bells and whistles. Their funds would also allow a few poor children to be treated there "on scholarship."

Few would actually see the movie, though the sponsors would bus hundreds of low-income patients from medical clinics for viewing parties. It would nevertheless become a springboard for many media stories, daytime talk shows, and sidebar ads on popular liberal blogs. A major network would devote a full week to special programming featuring promoters of "miracle cures" including an amazing weight loss program ("Eat all you want and still lose weight!"), a quick way to get out of debt forever, and a tonic that has a 100 percent success rate growing hair on formerly bald men.

Eventually, we would learn that some of these cures were faked, or that their promoters had fudged data to make their results seem more compelling, but the Med Reformers wouldn't really care, since their real goal is not to improve the health of all Americans but to create a profit-making health care "marketplace."

5) Become the subject of a huge public backlash