Oh, people and to a lesser extent animals—it’s impossible to know what’s going on in their heads. You want to assume that they feel stuff and see green and whatnot in roughly the same way as you, but who’s to say? You’d think that would be a call to empathy, but for the most part it’s an excuse to treat other minds badly. The first time we went fishing, my grandfather explained to me—precocious child I was—that fish don’t have nerves in their mouths, so they can’t feel the hook. It sounded questionable, but believing it enabled me to shut up and keep fishing with my grandpa, and besides—how could I know? Today is Friday, and the opacity of other minds is all that makes life bearable. Won’t you adopt a cavalier disregard with me?
In 2010, the Affordable Care Act included a 2.3% tax on medical devices, designed to offset the cost of subsidizing health care for low-income families. Last week, the Senate voted 79-20 to repeal that tax in response to heavy lobbying by the medical device industry. Weirdly, 34 Democrats voted for repeal—many of the same senators who voted for the original tax. What a difference 30 months, several dozens lobbyists and one false cost estimate make. According to Bloomberg, the “reasonable assumptions” that the trade group AdvaMed used to estimate the cost of the tax “conflict with economic research, overstate companies’ incentives to move jobs offshore, and ignore the positive effect of new demand created by the law.”
Earlier this month, the Times reported that the last-minute fiscal cliff deal passed by the Senate included a provision that would delay Medicare price controls on certain drugs used in kidney dialysis, including Sensipar. Most senators did not know about the earmark, which was apparently added by aides just before the final vote and will cost the federal government $500 million. Sensipar is made by Amgen. In addition to being the world’s largest biotechnology corporation, Amgen is also a campaign contributor to Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D–MT,) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–KY) and Finance Committee member Orrin Hatch (R–UT.) The company’s registered lobbyists included former chiefs of staff for both Baucus and McConnell.
Since July, rumors have circulated that representatives of PhRMA—Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry’s trade group and lobbying machine—were meeting with President Obama to discuss potential pharmaceutical pricing regulations in health care reform. Back in 1994, when Clinton tried to overhaul the health care system, PhRMA was instrumental in blocking reform and funding a subsequent Republican resurgence in Congress that, among other services to the nation, forced the President to admit to getting a blowjob from a fat girl on television.* The drug industry is one of the largest sources of lobbying money in Congress, and their opposition to Medicare price negotiations has been vigorous and longstanding. During the 2008 campaign, Obama cited such negotiations, along with the importation of inexpensive prescription drugs from Canada, as a major objective of his reform plan. Now, however, a deal has been struck, Medicare negotiations are off the table, and PhRMA has invested $150 million in advertisements supporting the Baucus bill.
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT, go Griz) unveiled his long-awaited health care reform proposal this morning, after a year of personal reflection and more than three months of wrangling with a small group of Democratic and Republican Senators. If you’ve got twenty or so hours to spare, you can read the full text of the bill here. The Finance Committee chairman’s plan is bipartisan in the sense that it is the product of his discussions with Republican Senators Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi and Olympia Snowe, and not so bipartisan in the sense that they’ve all refused to endorse it. For his part, Grassley is still concerned about the two most important issues facing elderly white men who live in central Iowa: abortion and immigrants. “There are still some serious outstanding issues that have yet to be resolved,” Grassley said in a public statement. “Like preventing taxpayer funding of abortion services and the enforcement against subsidies for illegal aliens.” While Baucus’s legislation, like all other proposed health reform bills, expressly forbids federal funding of coverage for illegal aliens, Grassley does not feel that the wording is strong enough. He also wants to include a five-year waiting period before legal immigrants can be eligible for federal subsidies, as part of America’s longstanding Mow My Lawn and Then Get the Hell Off My Property policy.