Guess who's coming to dinner?

December 17, 2008

From the New York Times (Insurers Seek Presence at Health Care Sessions)

When supporters of President-elect Barack Obama hold house parties to discuss ways of fixing the health care system over the next two weeks, they may find some unexpected guests.

The health insurance industry is encouraging its employees and satisfied customers to attend. A trade group representing some of the nation’s largest health care businesses, including drug companies, is organizing several meetings. The American Medical Association and other medical societies are encouraging doctors to get involved.

The Maine Medical Association will convene a community discussion on Dec. 30. Group Health Cooperative of Seattle has sent e-mail messages to 35,000 subscribers encouraging their participation, and one of its doctors plans to lead a session next Tuesday.

The meetings, originally envisioned as a way to make good on Mr. Obama’s commitment to “health care reform that comes from the ground up,” could thus turn into living-room lobbying sessions involving some of the biggest stakeholders in the health care industry.

I think the angle for this article is off base.

It reminds me a bit of a scene from my youth, when I went with my family to hear a Marine Corps band play at one of the local parks. When an electrical storm threatened, the band called off the performance, fearing for their personal safety (and probably for their instruments, too). A man in the crowd yelled that he was upset since he paid taxes and now was being deprived of the band performance that those taxes paid for. The conductor of the band, a Marine officer, pointed out that members of the band paid taxes, too.

Health care is one of the biggest industries in the country, and it’s completely legitimate for people who work in the industry –and certainly for satisfied customers of the industry– to show up and express themselves like any other citizen. The opinions of doctors, insurance companies employees and so on should be welcome. People who work in the industry are also more likely than lay people to know what they’re talking about. And not everyone who works in health care is anti-reform.
I’d be disappointed if industry groups come to dominate these discussions, but somehow I don’t think it’s going to happen.

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