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August 17, 2009

Tom Daschle is working for the insurance industry, again

Ever wonder why single payer is never, ever on the table? Maybe because so many ostensibly liberal health policy leaders are as beholden to the insurance industry as their conservative counterparts.

For example, Business Week reports that former Democratic senator Tom Daschle is once again working closely with UnitedHealth, the nation's largest health insurance company.

Sommer has retained such influential outsiders as Tom Daschle, the former Democratic Senate Leader who now works for the large law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird. Daschle, a liberal from South Dakota, dropped out of the running to be Obama's Secretary of Health & Human Services after disclosures that he failed to pay taxes on perks given to him by a private client. He advised UnitedHealth in 2007 and 2008 and resumed that role this year. Daschle personally advocates a government-run competitor to private insurers. But he sells his expertise to UnitedHealth, which opposes any such public insurance plan. Among the services Daschle offers are tips on the personalities and policy proclivities of members of Congress he has known for decades.

Conceding that he doesn't always agree with his client, Daschle says: "They just want a description of the lay of the land, an assessment of circumstances as they appear to be as health reform unfolds." He says he leaves direct contacts with members of Congress to others at his firm. [BW]

Even reform standard-bearer Howard Dean joined the lobby firm of McKenna, Long & Aldridge in March as a strategic adviser and policy consultant. McKenna lobbies on behalf of several health care, life science, and insurance companies. When Dean joined the firm, it was announced that he would be advising the firm's lobbyists on healthcare issues.

The White House shouldn't allow Daschle and Dean to continue such apparent conflicts of interest. I'm guessing that their job descriptions have been carefully vetted to avoid violating any ethics guidelines, but let's get real here. Lobbyists are paying top dollar for inside information from current movers and shakers in healthcare policy. That stinks.

Even if everything is on the up-and-up, these arrangements make me question Daschle and Dean's leadership. Can't they wait just a few more months to cash in their public sector credentials?

Sometimes the oligarchy in the United States seems every bit as intractable as the power structure in Honduras.


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RE "The White House shouldn't allow Daschle and Dean to continue such apparent conflicts of interest."

Tom Daschle and Howard Dean aren't in the administration. The White House can't tell them what to do.

The White House can tell Dean and Daschle what they must do in order to remain close advisers to the president and trusted pointmen.

Obviously, the White House can't threaten to fire them because they aren't employees.

On the other hand, DfA's front page asks people to donate money to support the public option...

Totally OT, Alon (and anyone else, I guess, but somehow Alon and I almost scheduled a meeting and it slipped by in the past) I am envisitating NYC for a couple of days starting Wednesday night, and whoever is interested in co-wa-fee...

OTOH, could it be a good thing that the industry is listening to people like Daschle instead of, say, Dick Armey?
Maybe he's just working the problem from the inside?

I'm game.

And isn't it coo-uh-fee (i.e. /'

Maybe he is, but we really shouldn't have to be asking these questions. He's only a leading figure in the most important domestic item on the president's policy agenda. You'd think he could take time off from making money hand over fist while the actual fight is going on, at least for the sake of appearances.

Notice how a vague promise of a public option now constitutes the outer limit of "respectable" discourse in Washington. The scope of debate is shaped by the very cozy relationships that so many influential healthcare leaders have with the insurance industry and its allies. It's all very collegial. We only ever hear about bandaid solutions, never fundamental change because that would challenge too many vested interests.

Political consultants rarely take time off from making money. It's really frustrating, even from a pure efficiency standpoint - one of the things that made Mark Penn a bad campaign manager was his reluctance to quit his consulting gigs and dedicate his time to making Clinton win.

And a public option isn't a band-aid solution. It's a kinder, gentler version of single-payer.

Alon Levy -

A public option which
- paid Medicare rates, and
- was open to any employer
would be more than a band-aid.

But the House will probably pass a public option which pays doctors much more (and therefore needs to charge higher premiums) and which bans employers with 25-or-more employees from joining (unless the employer gets special permission.)

The latter kind of public option wouldn't offer much competition, and the premiums of private insurance would continue to rise faster than inflation.

Lindsay Beyerstein -

The Obama Administration met with hospital lobbyists and told them that if they promise to lower hospital costs, then "legislation would not include a government-run health plan paying Medicare rates."

Barack Obama isn't in a position to tell Howard Dean that he better quit his lobby-firm job, or he'll consider Dean too tainted to talk to.

Alon, are the email addresses on your blog still fresh? I ask because of the hotmail email abandonment factor.

Mandos, they're still fresh.

Eric, the way things are going now, there won't be a public option either way. I blame Obama for refusing to try selling the proposal. (Blaming the Republicans for this is a bit like blaming criminals for a crime wave and giving the police a free pass.)

Alon, I wrote to you from Mandos' real identity, [[Mandos]], where [[]] is the denotation function with respect to a reasonable model of the universe.

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