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October 19, 2004

Practice your "love" in Iraq, doc

I was wondering why the New York Times didn't put Robert Pear on the Merck/Vioxx story. Pear is their best investigative health reporter. He usually handles the big pharma and insurance exposes for the NYT, which made him the obvious choice to cover this year's biggest big pharma scandal.

Evidently, Pear had bigger fish to fry: U.S. Has Contingency Plans for a Draft of Medical Workers [NYT permalink]:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 - The Selective Service has been updating its contingency plans for a draft of doctors, nurses and other health care workers in case of a national emergency that overwhelms the military's medical corps.

In a confidential report this summer, a contractor hired by the agency described how such a draft might work, how to secure compliance and how to mold public opinion and communicate with health care professionals, whose lives could be disrupted.

On the one hand, the report said, the Selective Service System should establish contacts in advance with medical societies, hospitals, schools of medicine and nursing, managed care organizations, rural health care providers and the editors of medical journals and trade publications.

On the other hand, it said, such contacts must be limited, low key and discreet because "overtures from Selective Service to the medical community will be seen as precursors to a draft," and that could alarm the public.


In this election year, the report said, "very few ideas or activities are viewed without some degree of cynicism."

President Bush has flatly declared that there will be no draft, but Senator John Kerry has suggested that this is a possibility if Mr. Bush is re-elected. [...]

The real story is not the plan for special skills draft. The Selective Service has been compiling and updating plans for a special skills draft since 1987. What is much more interesting is the fact that the government hired Widmeyer Communications to sell a medical draft for Iraq. The right wingers are already grumbling that these are just contingency plans. If so, they are plans for a flip flop. George W. Bush already promised that there would be no draft as long as he is the president. So, the option of the draft shouldn't even be on the table. Bush could have said "No draft without a national emergency." He could have send "No general draft." But he promised no draft at all.

As far as Widmeyer's recommendations go, they sound like wishful thinking. There's no reason to think that key opinion leaders in medicine will be receptive to a military draft, no matter how "low key and discreet" these overtures are.

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