Thursday, December 14, 2006

What, Me Worry?

The November elections brought many changes, and for many of us, brought hope for a new national conversation about health care. Most working folks understand that we have a national health care crisis – that our cobbled together privatized system leaves out approximately 47 million Americans. Most people, even some politicians think this is wrong – but not all, apparently. Recently our very own NH Senator leaped into the fray, telling business leaders, “There is no solution.” This astounding quote appeared in the December 3, Concord Sunday Monitor, in the “Capital Beat” section. In it, the Monitor reports that Senator John Sununu had met with economic development leaders and told them not to waste time worrying about the cost of health care. He told them they’d be better off putting their energy elsewhere. Indeed, why should he worry? As a federal employee he has a fine health insurance plan. He’s been in office long enough so he won’t ever have to worry about it. Worry is for the common folks! One can only assume that this blithe disregard for a serious issue will come back to bite him right in the assume when he runs for re-election in 2008.

When Senator Sununu runs for re-election, you may wonder, who will be funding his campaign? Any time spent searching at is always quality time. At opensecrets you can find out who gets money from what organizations, PACS, zip codes, and so on. You can see copies of candidate financial disclosure forms. It’s a very helpful place, filled with all kinds of interesting facts for your perusal. A look through Senator Sununu’s section at opensecrets reveals that his top business donor since he entered Congress in 1996 is securities and investment. In second place for business contributions is the insurance industry. It’s no wonder he’s so sure the solution to our health care problems lies in the open market – the open market funds his campaign – even in non-election years. So far, this year, the insurance industry has given Senator Sununu $322,500. He’s not even running for office till 2008. In contrast, the pharmaceutical industry are cheap buggers, they’ve only given him $92,999 so far this year. Maybe that’s the payback he gets for not voting for the Medicare Modernization Act, which gave us Medicare Part D.

I was interested to learn that the Senator’s top metro area contributions come from New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Houston, and Lowell. He receives generous contributions from the Bedford and Rochester areas, but his top dollars are mostly coming from out of state. What does all of this mean? Well, one thing I’m sure of is that he gets a boatload of money from the insurance industry. Does all of that hard cash have an impact on his positions and his voting? I’m betting that if I donated $300,000 to his campaign that I’d have his full attention, and plenty of it, just about any time I wanted it.

There has never been a better time to consider how we fund elections. It’s time for us to change the money market, so that we don’t wind up with an endless succession of Sununus – privileged scions of wealthy families, who have never had to live in the real world, where health insurance is enormously expensive, and housing costs are the 7th highest in the nation. I urge you to check out the website at . Just $6 is the project of Americans for Campaign Reform, and their honorary chairpersons are: Bill Bradley, Warren Rudman, Bob Kerrey, and Alan Simpson. For only $6 each, we could publicly fund all federal elections, and eliminate the big money contributions from special interests. This project was born right here in NH, and rumor has it that it will be going national in the next year or so. Please check out their website, and add your support to the growing move to take the big money (and influence) out of our democratic process.

Senator Sununu isn’t a terrible guy. He did vote against the terrible Medicare Modernization Act. He voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment. He voted against extending the Patriot Act. These were all good votes, and prove that he can break party ranks on occasion. Still, I find myself astounded that he would willingly become the Alfred E. Neuman of NH – what me, worry?

If the open market had a solution, we’d know about it. There’s a reason why so many other countries have universal health care plans. There’s a reason why pharmaceuticals are cheaper in those countries. We’re getting fleeced, told we have the finest health care system in the world, and getting fleeced some more. Who benefits? Insurance companies are recording record profits. Their CEO’s are raking in the big bucks, too. UnitedHealth Group CEO William McGuire enjoyed a salary of $135. 47 million. (Poor guy had to resign over a stock option timing problem.) Poor John Rowe of Aetna only made $57.49 million, and at a paltry $42.13 million, Edward Hanway of Cigna must be ready to apply for food stamps.

This much is certain – you and I are not benefiting from this – not even a little. As long as we don’t worry about it – nothing will change, and that, friends, is what the insurance industry and Senator Sununu are counting on.

“In the future, we’ll all have 15 minutes of fame, and 15 minutes of health care.” Nicole Hollander

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