By Patricia Lee Sharpe
While Obama and McCain play to the crowd on the oil price crunch, Congress is playing games with Medicare.
On the one hand, we have Republican politicians shouting that we can’t afford Medicare, much less universal health care, which many Democrats more or less support, while clinging to various coy and complex reservations. I include Obama in this flirtation with meeting American’s health needs, because he has not, to my mind, been sufficiently comprehensive in his goals or clear in his assertions. McCain is essentially for total health care privatization, which definitely won’t help to raise America’s life expectancy stats to a respectable level.
On the other hand, Congressional leaders of BOTH parties, it seems, have voted to undercut efforts to halt Medicare over payments for medical devices. It seems that an elderly or post-operative person who is a little wobbly can buy an ordinary walker in a big box store for half what it would cost Medicare to provide the same item.
How can this be? Simple. Current procurement policies for Medicare don’t require suppliers to bid competitively on contracts to supply such devices. This bit of federal assistance, a brazen subsidy to the private sector of the sort that "Conservatives" are addicted to, was going to be eliminated by Congressional reformers.
But then the industry got to work on our representatives and presto!!!! More of our tax dollars funneled—approximately $1,000,000,000—to the undeserving. That’s big business bed-manufacturers, not beggars. The system isn’t being milked by illegal immigrants, it seems. It’s being bilked by the free enterprise types who typically hate competition. It's so inefficient.
And who in Congress persuaded their colleagues on both sides of the aisle to throw out the bidding provisions so that the rich can stay rich while the Medicare system gets trashed for being unaffordable? Why Democratic Committee Chairmen Pete Stark and John Dingell and House Republican leader John Boehner. Ah, the joys of bipartisanship!
The bill goes to the Senate next. Won't it be interesting to see how Senators John McCain, aka Mr. Born Again Tax Cut, and Barak Obama, aka Mr. New Day in Politics, vote on this one? Will either or both insist on competitive bidding for medical supplies, thus saving Medicare and the American people that billion, which would also amount to $200 million saved in co-payments by patients? Or will the presumptive presidential nominees of both major parties allow the device suppliers to continue to pocket the subsidy, a nifty little reward for lobbying and (no doubt) big election year contributions? Or will one or the other or both of our potential presidents be a little more evasive, a little more cowardly? Maybe they'll fail to show up for the vote, so their preferences won't be on record. It will be interesting, too, to see how Senator Hillary Clinton votes. She campaigned on looking out for the little guy, but she’s got big debts. Is there a conflict between principle and pocketbook here, too?
Reformer's bottom line: Both Obama and McCain have taken stands on ridding politics of the pernicious influence of big money. Here’s a place to show they mean it.
And, for those who think I'm being too cynical, here's a Late Bulletin!!!!! Shares of the relevant stocks have already shot up.