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National Puppet Masters Pull Strings for Local Health Reform Groups

Opinion Editorial
March 5, 2009

By Linda Gorman

Ever wonder why health care “reforms” that have failed everywhere they’ve been tried still get attention?

Follow the money.

The annual “grassroots” Health Care Day of Action will take place on the Colorado state capitol steps on March 9. This year’s slogan is “demand healthcare reform” because “economic recovery begins with healthcare reform.” The Obama administration is using the same slogan, suggestion that these grassroots are pretty shallow.

The reforms being promoted mirror Obama’s proposed nostrums. That they have failed everywhere they’ve been tried doesn’t seem to matter. We’re told to expand the dysfunctional Medicaid/SCHIP program even though an estimated 60 percent of the children who enroll in SCHIP previously had private health insurance. We’re told to force insurers to insure everyone, sick or not, at the same price even though this drives them out of the market and makes everyone dependent on government run care. We’re told to support ineffective clinical effectiveness research letting bureaucrats tell physicians how to treat patients.

The roots of the Health Care Day of Action are neither spontaneous nor local. Large national foundations have spent big money to promote their ideas using locally incorporated front groups.

The foundations call it “boost[ing] the enormous groundswell of activity at the state level.”[1]

In 2008, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced the $15 million Consumer Voices for Coverage program. Run in conjunction with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation $15 million Finish Line Project, Consumer Voices for Coverage funds 18 advocacy organizations in 14 states to push RWJF approved reforms.

Colorado groups operating under the $750,000 Consumer Voices umbrella include the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Metro Organizations of People, the

Colorado Council of Churches,[2] the Business Health Forum, the Colorado Progressive Coalition, and Colorado Covering Kids and Families.

At the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, the Executive Director, Policy Director, and Policy Associate are all registered professional lobbyists. The remaining staff includes an operations manager, a development director, three field organizers, and an intern supported by Colorado College.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundations reforms have such a history of failure that one wonders why any local group that cares about people would agree to be affiliated with them.

In 1993, the Tennessee Robert Wood Johnson Foundation virtually write the law creating TennCare, a program turning Tennessee’s Medicaid program into a giant HMO covering all poor and uninsured residents. The result was unsustainable spending, rampant fraud, significant declines in the quality of care due to low government reimbursements, and unsustainable caseloads. The state gutted the program in 2005 when spending became unsustainable.

In 1994, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation helped create Kentucky Kare, a statewide health insurance purchasing cooperative. After it lost tens of millions of dollars, the percentage of uninsured people increased dramatically, more than 45 health insurers left the state, and average health insurance premiums skyrocketed, the program was canceled in 2004.[3,4]

Hawaii’s Keiki Care, another reform Robert Wood Johnson supported reform effort, was closed down in December 2008. After just 7 months of operation, enrollment was poorly controlled and spending was unsustainable.[5]

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also designed the health insurance reform legislation that destroyed health insurance markets in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, and Maine.

In Colorado, the Health Care Day of Action is brought to you by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation via Colorado Voices for Coverage, “one of twelve state based advocacy groups selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Community Catalyst to participate in the Consumer Voices for Coverage grant initiative, which supports state health care coverage efforts by fostering strong and robust advocacy infrastructure.”[6]

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and its acolytes ignore the fact that successful don’t need advocacy. They liberate people to become their own advocates. People freed from constricting health regulation find lots of ways to save money. The seriously disabled people in Colorado Medicaid’s Consumer Directed Attendant Support program have shown us all that when they are freed from Medicaid rules they can both improve their health and save about 20% a year.

People freed from insurance company rules to manage routine health care via high deductible health insurance policies qualified for tax free health savings accounts also save, lowering health insurance premiums, by 10 to 40 percent. After just 4 years of operation, over 6 million people have chosen to participate. Between 2004 and 2008, they saved more than $3.2 billion in their health savings accounts.[7]

Policies that free people from burdensome government health rules are reducing health care costs right now. It’s too bad that the folks at the Health Care Day of Action aren’t getting paid to promote reforms that work.

[1] Consumer Voices for Coverage. Advancing the movement for reform. Website. http://www.voicesforcoverage.org/ Accessed February 24, 2009.

[2] For more information see the article on the Colorado Council of Churches web site which explains that the “Colorado Council of Churches is pleased to be a partner in the Colorado Voices for Coverage, an important national grant just awarded to Colorado!…Colorado was among the 40 states to apply for the grant, and is 1 of 12 grant sites chosen to work toward health care reform via this grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  The 3-year $750,000 grant will enable the Colorado Voices for Coverage (CVC)partners to educate and engage Coloradoans statewide about health care reform (including child health and child mental health) and how to influence and shape health care policy.” http://www.cochurches.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=53&Itemid=71 Accessed February 24, 2009.

[3] Conrad F. Meier. May 1, 2004. “Kentucky Gov. Fletcher Seeks Insurance Reform. Health Care News. http://www.newcoalition.org/Article.cfm?artId=14790 Accessed 24 February 2009.

[4] Rachel McCubbin. June 6, 1997. The Kentucky Health Care Experiment: How “Managed Competition” Clamps Down on Choice and Competition,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1119. http://www.heritage.org/research/healthcare/BG1119.cfm, accessed February 25, 2009.

[5] For example, The Hawaii Covering Kids program lists the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as the funder for phase 1 of its media campaign for Phase 1 of its media campaign targeting “Chinese, Filipinos, and Samoans.” http://www.coveringkids.com/news/Section_157.asp. It says it participated in a Robert Wood Johnson collaborative group in 2003, http://www.coveringkids.com/news/Section_194.asp, its report states that “Hawai’i Covering Kids is part of the Covering Kids & Families national initiative funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It seeks to increase the number of eligible children and youth who benefit from federal and state health insurance programs and receives direction and technical support from the Southern Institute on Children and Families,” page 3 of the “Get Teens Covered by Health Insurance” A Campaign to Enroll Adolescents report issued in 2002 by the Hawai’I Covering Kids Group. See http://www.coveringkids.com/hot_happenings/HCK_GTC_Report1202.pdf.

[6] http://www.coloradovoices.org/content/about

[7] http://www.aishealth.com/ConsumerDirected/CDarticles/CDH_HSA_Multimillion_Dollar.html