Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sen. Sanders speaks out 

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) withdrew his single-payer amendment from the Senate floor this afternoon when it became clear it did not have the votes to pass, and after Senator Coburn (R-OK) had asked that the 767 page document be read into the record.

By Senate rules, Senator Sanders technically should not have been permitted halt the reading and speak, as Senator McConnell later pointed out, but speak he did.
Sanders, an independent and socialist, said his approach is the only one "which eliminates the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, administrative costs, bureaucracy and profiteering that is engendered by the private insurance companies." His remarks drew handshakes and even a hug or two from Democrats who had filed into the Senate to hear him...

Sanders referred to his proposal as a "Medicare for all single-payer bill" and said if it became law, patients would be able to see the same doctors they now use. In his speech, he ripped into insurance companies, drugmakers, medical device manufacturers and others.

In order to provide cost-effective comprehensive health care, he said, "you're going to have to take on the private insurance companies and tell them very clearly they are no longer needed. Thanks for your service. We don't need you anymore."
Now what did medical device manufacturers ever do to Senator Sanders to warrant such ire? Did he receive a faulty artificial hip, or something? Is he under the impression that device manufacturers are too wildly profitable for their own good (I am sure that one of the bloggers here could disabuse him of that theory)?

And does the Senator understand the difference in meaning and connotation between "profit" and "profiteering," as he applied that second word to insurance companies? Perhaps he would like to compare the historical EBITDA figures for a famous and "socially conscious" Vermont company such as Ben & Jerry's (since 2000, part of the Anglo-Dutch evil empire conglomerate Unilever, so it may be hard to come by post-acquisition operating unit reports) to the average profit margins for a group of health insurance companies. Come to think of it, what happens to your cholesterol when you eat a couple of pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream every week?

Setting aside why a senator from a small state who is a self-identified socialist, and received 171,638 votes in the 2006 election in Vermont, believes he knows what is best for a diverse country of 300,000,000 people, why is it that he wants private insurance to go away altogether? Even in the U.K., which one might well suppose is a shining example of the type of public health insurance and health care delivery system Senator Sanders wants for the U.S., private insurance plays an important role -- supplemental insurance for those Brits who are fortunate enough to have it enables them to jump the queue for important tests or procedures. Nice perq, if you can get it. So, if we are to be a carbon copy of the U.K. scheme, there is some need for private insurance, right, Senator?

In a way, you have to admire the honesty of Senator Sanders in self-identifying as a socialist -- that's more than many politicians are willing to do. I don't begrudge a man his beliefs. The demagoguery, on the other hand, is a bit much. If he would take a week next summer when the Senate is not in session and work at a medical device company, he might gain an appreciation for just how difficult it actually is to bring a product out of the lab, through clinical studies, submit it to FDA and get it to market. It is many years and a great deal of money invested in the project, after which the company might get yelled at by elected representatives for "profiteering."

Paraphrasing Col. Jessup:

"Senator, my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives."

It's true, successful medical devices in many clinical niches actually do save lives. Handle that truth, Senator.


By Blogger Don Cox, at Thu Dec 17, 06:40:00 AM:

"So, if we are to be a carbon copy of the U.K. scheme, there is some need for private insurance, right, Senator?"

No, not really. I certainly feel no need for it myself.

Bear in mind that the UK scheme is not nowadays as good as the French and German schemes - it has become over-administered.
The senator is right about health insurance companies. They are not needed.  

By Blogger davod, at Thu Dec 17, 02:32:00 PM:

I have seen a number of Democratic politicians express th vew that the only way to get a grip on the cost of healthcare is to place all doctors on salary.

Who pays those who work for the doctors?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Dec 18, 10:35:00 AM:

Ah yes the shining example of UK "healthcare".
Rationed by extreme, women having their babies on the sidewalks, hallways, and elevators of the hospitals. A shining example indeed.
When the citizens of this country are denied a doctor because someone doesn't like the look of their face, you can expect not the brit response, but an american one.  

By Blogger orthodoc, at Fri Dec 18, 10:45:00 AM:

Uh, Don, you are aware that both France and Germany rely heavily on private insurance? Aren't you?

And you are aware that each of the top 10 medical schools in this country do more clinical research than the top five countries following the US? Who do you think is going to do that research? Think we're going to do it for free?

The current "health" care bills will destroy medical research in this country.  

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