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Battling ObamaCare: The Health Care Industry Starts to Awaken

Somewhere between the election of President Obama and the raging battle to repeal ObamaCare, the health care industry has woken up — sort of.

Part of why President Obama was able to gain early momentum for ObamaCare’s passage was that he had the health insurance lobby, Big Pharma, the AMA, and the hospital lobby all eating out of his hand — or, more exactly, all feeding him and his party, in the form of donations and political support. In May of 2009, President Obama posed for a photograph at the White House with health industry leaders, and along the road to ObamaCare’s passage, the president and his congressional allies encountered very little opposition from the health care industry — the very people who arguably had the most to lose.

Thankfully, the Democratic White House and Congress have encountered plenty of opposition from other quarters: namely, from citizens who don’t relish the thought of government control over health care, or the thought of government intrusion into the uniquely private relationship between patient and doctor. Americans also don’t support the thought of launching a massive new entitlement program, or of largely paying for it by siphoning money out of an existing already-barely-solvent entitlement program (Medicare) — a practice commonly known as robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Americans don’t want higher taxes, greater debt, rationed care, reduced liberty, or any of the other unpleasant consequences that would result from funneling enough wealth and power to Washington to give it control of what will soon be one-fifth of our economy. All of this, of course, is why we are now very much in the midst of a nation-defining fight for repeal.

Some good news in that fight is that the alliance between the Obama administration and the health care industry appears to have largely broken down. The first group to break ranks was the doctors. Across America, they began to be among the leaders, and the leading funders, of the Tea Party movement. Groups like Docs4PatientCare — an organization of doctors who believe that the health care system should be controlled by patients and physicians, not by insurers and especially not by the government — sprang up and quickly expanded. New chapters of the Benjamin Rush Society (of which I was recently the director and am now a member of the Board of Advisors) began to form on the campuses of American medical schools. Taking their name from a doctor who signed the Declaration of Independence, they unite medical students who believe that doctors are called to serve their patients, not the government.

Such Tocquevillian civil associations can do a great deal of good, but USA Today reports that doctors haven’t stopped there. As of April, 47 doctors were running for the House or Senate — nearly three times the number of doctors (16) currently serving in Congress. Of these 47, 41 are Republicans and six are Democrats, a split that says something about how well the AMA — a high-visibility supporter of ObamaCare whose membership includes only about one-sixth of all physicians — represents doctors and their views.

USA Today also reports that a Gallup poll earlier this year said that 77 percent of Americans trust doctors to do “the right thing” on health policy. Perhaps doctors can help steer us toward the sort of real reform that — in offering a viable, affordable, and understandable alternative, which would both meaningfully reduce the number of uninsured and (unlike ObamaCare) actually bring down health costs — would make the repeal of ObamaCare all the more likely.

While the rest of the health care industry hasn’t yet been motivated to fight ObamaCare in the way that many doctors have been, Politico nevertheless describes some movement in that direction. The health care insurance industry almost universally backed ObamaCare — although you’d never know it from President Obama’s rhetoric — but has apparently grown tired of being vilified by the Obama White House and has now started to shift its contributions toward the party that’s pushing for repeal. According to Politico, such contributions are now being divided roughly 60%-40% between Republicans and Democrats.

One might wonder: Why did insurers back ObamaCare in the first place, given that its myriad of present and future mandates would likely run insurers out of business and eventually leave the government as the sole insurer? Politico writes that insurers “saw potentially huge dividends in the promise of an individual mandate requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance.”  Congressional Budget Office scoring offers further evidence of their likely motivation, noting that, in its real first dozen years (2014 to 2025), ObamaCare would funnel $1 trillion from American taxpayers, through the federal government, to insurers.  That’s another thing you don’t hear much about in the president’s rhetoric.

In any event, it’s good to see insurers switching their allegiance to candidates who favor repeal, even if they can just sense the political winds. Big Pharma, another supporter of ObamaCare, has also somewhat changed its course. Politico writes that these drug companies, “which invested millions in television advertising last spring and summer to promote passage” of ObamaCare, are now “sitting on their wallets in the run-up to the November elections.” This, too, is progress.

Alas, Politico reports that the American Hospital Association and the hospital community at large continue to back ObamaCare.  Perhaps they like the naked political favoritism they received in the provision that will now make it nearly impossible for doctors to own hospitals — or to expand the ones they already own — thereby aiding the powerful hospital lobby by limiting its competition.

But doctors are fighting back. Politico writes, “Health professionals … have quietly become the biggest supporters of the nascent Tea Party Caucus, a movement by and large catalyzed by opposition to the health reform law. They donated a little more than $2.7 million to Tea Party Caucus members, making them the group’s most supportive industry.”

ObamaCare certainly seems to have provided a much-needed wake-up call for many medical professionals. Now, it will be interesting to count the races in which voters decide to send a doctor to the House.