Weekly Pulse: Drugs, Sex, and Single Payer

Lindsay E. Beyerstein

Now that Obama has chosen his top healthcare advisers, the administration is beginning to chart a course for healthcare reform. Not surprisingly, there is vigorous debate about what our a new healthcare system would look like, and how to pay for it.

This week, we bring you news of drugs, sex, and single-payer health
insurance, including a fun video clip on Obama’s new drug czar from the
Rachel Maddow show. Now that Obama has chosen his top healthcare
advisers, the administration is beginning to chart a course for
healthcare reform. Not surprisingly, there is vigorous debate about
what our a new healthcare system would look like, and how to pay for it.

Single-payer health insurance was a hot topic for independent media
this week. The private health insurance industry has failed to contain
costs and cover the majority of Americans. The strain of the
employer-funded health insurance system is crippling American
competitiveness and leaving consumers unsatisfied. Universal, publicly-funded health insurance would be a better and cheaper alternative, explains Ramón Castellblanch in the Progressive.
Castellblanch, an associate professor of health education at California
State University, says that single-payer is simply a
government-administered insurance program for everyone, not
government-administered healthcare.

There’s also broad consensus that fixing the healthcare system must
involve more than providing health insurance. Insurance is a tool for
spreading risk and sharing cost, but it won’t fix the deeper problems
that made healthcare unaffordable in the first place. In Salon, Rahul K. Parikh, M.D. describes the carrots and sticks built into Obama’s plan to motivate doctors
to practice evidence-based medicine more efficiently. Evidence-based
medicine means treatment supported by the best scientific research. It
has been estimated that up to one third of medical treatment is
unnecessary and ineffective. Some reformers believe, therefore, that
making medicine more evidence-based will improve quality and cut costs.

Maggie Maher argues in AlterNet that such cost-saving reforms are well and good, but we will still need to raise taxes in order to pay for healthcare reform.

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Opponents of healthcare reform often try to frighten consumers with
claims that government intervention will remove their ability to make
choices about treatment. As political scientist Scott Lemieux explains
at TAPPED, Obama’s healthcare plan would increase choice:

First of all, many people who have insurance are
seriously restricted in their choice of physicians. There’s nothing
about private insurance that guarantees that patients will have wide
discretion in choosing who will perform their medical care. For
example, Canada’s single-payer system would even provide more patient
discretion. And then, of course, people without insurance effectively
have no choice at all. Obama’s plan will at least give many of them
more options than they have now. People who can afford to pay out of
pocket for the doctor of their choice can still do so.

Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent reports that Sen. Chuck Grassley
(R-IA) is doing his best to convince the public that reforms like
comparative effectiveness research would amount to "rationing" of
healthcare. As Scott Lemieux argued in his TAPPED post, linked above,
rationing is the status quo, as the main rationing criteria is the patient’s ability to pay.

Delivering care based on what works, as opposed to who can pay, would be change we can believe in.

If there’s one thing we love to write about at the Weekly Pulse, it’s czars. All kinds of czars.
This week, president Obama picked a shiny new drug czar: Seattle police
chief Gil Kerlikowske. In the following clip, Rachel Maddow discusses
the implications of the pick with Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy
Institute. Some activists are concerned that choosing a cop to run the
Office of National Drug Control Policy is a mistake, but Mirken argues
that Kerlikowske’s record as a pragmatic urban police chief is cause
for cautious optimism:


In legal drug-related news, Martha Rosenberg of AlterNet explains why the multi-billion dollar merger between pharmaceutical giants Merck and Schering-Plough is a marriage made in hell,
though the two firms do have many common interests: Scientifically
dubious research designed to “prove” the efficacy of their latest
blockbuster drugs, and questionable “awareness” campaigns to promote
their products, to name a few. “Many are saying the drug companies need
a new business model, having dealt themselves out of the game with
their crash-and-burn blockbusters and with third party and Medicaid
benefits managers saying “You’ve got to be kidding” about extravagant
patent drugs,” Rosenberg writes.

At TAPPED, Beth Schwartzapfel weighs the pros and cons of making birth control pills available over the counter.
Some reproductive health activists believe that making the pill more
readily available would help more women manage their fertility with few
risks, but some medical professionals caution against the change
because they worry that women will miss out on other kinds of care,
like pap smears, if they can just buy pills at the pharmacy.

Finally, Kimberly Whipkey of Rewire writes that the FDA has approved the next generation of female condom, and not a moment too soon: Air America
reports on an alarming new study that shows the rate of HIV/AIDS in
Washington, D.C. is on par with those of West Africa. Speaking of AIDS,
what medical school did Pope Benedict go to? The pontiff made his first
unequivocal pronouncement against condoms this week, sparking pointed
criticism from various outlets, including Marissa Valeri of RH Reality and Miriam Perez of Feministing.

Americans are finally realizing that our corporate, profit-driven healthcare system isn’t working. (Democracy Now! reports on the formation of the new activist group, Single Payer Action,
an organization dedicated to advocating direct action to demand a
single-payer health insurance system.) There is widespread political
will for sweeping change, even if questions remain as to how to supply
high quality healthcare for everyone at an affordable price.


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