A New York Times Magazine story published on the newspaper’s website on Wednesday details the complicated history of screening for prostate cancer in the U.S. and revisits the related story of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force meeting that was abruptly cancelled for political reasons on November 1, 2010, the day before the midterm Congressional elections. I was interviewed several times for this story, starting shortly after my resignation from my position at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, where for 4 years I had supported the USPSTF’s scientific activities on a wide range of topics.
I commend science journalists Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer for their tireless reporting efforts and dogged persistence in pursuing the real reason for the meeting’s cancellation, despite repeated and vigorous denials of senior government officials. Former USPSTF Chairman Ned Calonge confirms in the Times story that politics played a role: “In November 2010, just before midterm elections, the task force was again set to review its [prostate screening] recommendation when Calonge canceled the meeting. He says that word leaked out that if the November meeting was held, it could jeopardize the task force’s financing.” It’s true that several members of Congress had threatened to cut off funding for the Task Force after it recommended against routine mammography for women in their 40s. To the best of my knowledge, however, the order to cancel the meeting came directly from the White House, not Congress. And according to my superiors at the time, Dr. Calonge had no choice in the matter. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Common Sense Family Doctor*
It’s not often you get invited to the White House. I had my chance this week, when I was a guest at the White House’s Hanukkah party. Now, when I say “guest,” I mean I was a guest of the president — of Hadassah, that is.
My mother, Nancy Falchuk, is the president of one of the largest Jewish charitable organizations in the world, Hadassah. Her organization sponsors many different charitable activities, particularly related to healthcare (here she is in Jerusalem speaking at the ceremony lighting the walls of the Old City pink in honor of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.)
One of the terms she uses a lot is “healthcare diplomacy” — the idea that part of the solution to intractable problems of war and peace is building bridges through something that we all share – the need for healthcare. Her organization does incredible work to realize this mission. She has been a regular guest at this annual event at the White House. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*
Because some of his recent posts seem to have confused many of his readers (why is he so strongly against proposed healthcare reforms when he supports so many of its goals?), DrRich will state once again, for the record, his political philosophy.
DrRich is a classical liberal. This means he deeply values the concepts that guided America’s Founders; individual autonomy, property rights, freedom from restraint, free markets and limited government. He is deeply committed to the Great American Experiment, which is, to determine whether a nation conceived in personal liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal can long endure.
He believes that healthcare is very, very important, and indeed, has dedicated his career and most of his life to healthcare. But it is not the most important thing. For our generation to abandon the Great American Experiment for the sake of healthcare, or anything else for that matter, would be a perfidious act against our posterity, and indeed a crime against humanity.
DrRich is in favor of healthcare reform, and is glad that serious efforts to reform healthcare are at last taking place. He even finds much to like in the proposed reforms now percolating through Congress, such as, provisions for health insurance to be made available to most, if not all, of the people who cannot afford it today; the provision for health insurance to be made available to all the people who are blocked from insurance today because of their underlying illnesses; and the provision to prevent insurance companies (if any continue to exist in their present form) from canceling policies of their subscribers who get sick. These are all very good things.
But, as regular readers will know, DrRich has recently strongly criticized these proposed reforms, and hopes they will fail. This has angered and confused some of his readers, who know that he has favored universal healthcare, comparative effectiveness research, and other aspects of the reform plan now before Congress.
DrRich has turned against this reform plan not so much because of what’s in the reform bill itself. As DrRich has pointed out, the actual words of the reform bill are entirely open-ended. This is why proponents of one view or another can find in the bill what they wish to see (death panels vs. no death panels, continued availability of private insurance vs. a poison pill for private insurance, etc.), and it’s why their arguments take on the cast of debates among Biblical scholars over the true meaning of some cryptic Old Testament passage.
Rather, DrRich’s objection to this healthcare reform is based on the context in which it is being advanced. And in recent months he has come to see the context as this: a broad dismantling (whether inadvertent or not) of the Great American Experiment.
This dismantling probably began earlier than the fall of 2008 when DrRich first noticed it. But last fall was when our Congress (the peoples’ representatives) first began the wholesale abandonment of their duties and of the Constitution, with their passage of TARP. TARP took $700 billion and presented it to the Secretary of the Treasury to spend as he saw fit, thus creating, arguably, the second most powerful government official in U.S., and certainly the most powerful unelected one, in a manner never conceived under our Constitution. This was followed by the government’s moves to begin consuming Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, AIG, numerous banks and investment houses, and the auto manufacturers. And all of this was begun under a Republican administration.
While the Obama administration did not start any of this, they took the ball and ran with it, and to a degree that would have seemed impossible (to DrRich, at least) a year ago. They completed the acquisition of the car companies and other private and quasi-private institutions into the federal portfolio. They added yet another $800 or $900 billion onto the federal debt with the Stimulus Bill, and in the process our flaccid Congresspersons once again acceded to the idea that when the executive branch cries “crisis,” it is perfectly acceptable to pass a 1000+ page law into existence without even making a pretense of discovering what is in it.
Then there is the disturbing gathering of power by the executive branch. This includes commandeering control of the upcoming census by the White House, and just this past weekend, bringing the interrogation of foreign (and presumably domestic) terror suspects under White House control. (Under what circumstances do you suppose a Congressional Intelligence Committee would ever launch an investigation of the White House’s interrogation practices?) Perhaps more disturbingly are the 30+ unelected “czars” the President has named so far, individuals with potentially very big (but undefined) powers that at least threaten to impinge on the functions of Constitutionally legitimate government agencies and branches. These czars are not approved, or even vetted, by Congress (our representatives) – and at least some of them look to DrRich like very scary people, whose avowed political philosophies are collectivist, anti-capitalist, and dismissive of the Constitution.
So when the healthcare reform process began, yet again, with the presentation of a 1000+ page bill and the exhortation to pass it immediately – don’t bother reading it – on account of the dire crisis confronting our healthcare system, DrRich had seen enough. When that “pass-it-quick-it’s-an-emergency” strategy failed for once, and people began reading the monstrosity and reacting to it (as the Constitution provides that they may), and when in response our leaders accused them of being fascists, terrorists, mobsters, and other disturbing things, DrRich had seen enough. When DrRich read big parts of the reform bill himself, and realized that it is an intentionally ambiguous document whose effect will be to turn over the re-shaping of our entire healthcare system to appointed functionaries, czars, and other unelected bureaucrats, DrRich had seen enough.
DrRich has never been a conspiracy buff. He has always believed that sustaining for any length of time a conspiracy any more extensive than, say, cheating at bridge, would be impossible. He has always considered the right-wing nut-jobs who think the opposition secretly wants to convert the United States to a Marxist utopia to be, well, nut-jobs. But if the governmental activities we’ve seen over the past six months are not a concerted effort to end, once and for all, the Great American Experiment, then they are at least an inadvertent effort to do so. DrRich wants this to stop.
Reforming healthcare is important, very important. But reforming healthcare is not worth abandoning the foundational precepts of the most exceptional country the world has ever seen.
We can reform our healthcare system effectively and equitably, in a way that specifically preserves and strengthens those foundational American precepts. (DrRich has described how elsewhere.) At one time DrRich thought current reforms could possibly be turned into a first step in that direction. Now, thanks to the context in which these reform proposals are being advanced, he sees present efforts at healthcare reform as an irreversible step in the opposite direction, and possibly a final step from which we are unlikely to ever recover.
First we must decide what kind of society we are to be – and that’s the real “discussion” we’re having now – and then, and only then, can we decide how we are to reform our healthcare system.
And this is why DrRich will make his paltry efforts to try to stop it.
*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*