By Lynn Evans

The latest polls on health care reform find that most Americans support it, but they are also confused about what is in the proposals currently being worked on by Congress. No wonder. The amount of misinformation floating around is enough to confuse a rocket scientist.

If the American public is feeling left out of the debate on health care reform, it just might have something to do with the $1.4 million per day being spent on lobbying this single issue by the drug, health insurance and other health-related industries. In addition, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the health care industry has given members of Congress nearly $24 million in campaign contributions this year, on top of the $170 million they gave during the last election.

The drug manufacturers’ trade association, known as PHARMA, has spent more than $92 million lobbying Congress this year and is about to roll out a $150 million ad campaign to cut the discounts on drug products that are being planned to help reduce spiraling health care costs. Having enjoyed the largess of the Bush years, these companies are willing to spend big to keep their profits flowing.

Looking just at the committees that have jurisdiction over drafting the proposals that will go to the full Senate, the health care industry has given in excess of $13 million to the members of the Senate Finance Committee and more than $6 million to the “Gang of Six” who have been working over the summer on the Baucus proposal. As might be expected, the most money -- about $3.6 million -- is roughly split between Senator Baucus and the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley.

When the Medicare Part D legislation was before Congress, an equally obscene amount of money was thrown at the negotiators who then somehow came up with a program that pays drug companies money to run private money-making programs to help seniors buy their products.

Polls show that most Americans support health care reform that includes universal coverage, some kind of nonprofit option, and paying for the changes with increased taxes on high income Americans and employer contributions.

Most Americans understand that when 46 million of their neighbors do not have health insurance and more are losing their health coverage every day, and when a health insurance crisis is the No. 1 reason for bankruptcy filings, that health reform is needed now. Most people agree we need regulations to make insurance companies play fair and cover people with existing conditions, and that the goal should be universal coverage – especially for children. Most people would like to keep the coverage they have but are afraid that, if costs keep going up, no middle class families will be able to afford private insurance coverage that would meet their needs. So, most Americans support tax credits and subsidies that will enable working families who really cannot afford health coverage to get it.

People are very confused about the public option, and fear it will take away from what they have, rather than make the kind of coverage Congress gets, available to everybody. This might have something to do with private health insurance companies’ fear that the competition from a public option might force them to cut administrative costs and shareholder profits.

It’s time to take back our government from the Big Money interests who are muddying the waters of the current debate. We have an out-of-control system now and the companies who are benefiting financially would like to keep it that way, so they are spending a lot of money to kill reforms Americans want, and need.
Evans is a Jackson health care activist and writer.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Mississippi Forum 10/09