A Bill Moyers Essay On The Influence Of Money On The Health Care Debate

Bill Moyers weighs in on the appointment of Regina Benjamin for Surgeon General and the influence of money on the health care debate. BILL MOYERS: Th
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Bill Moyers weighs in on the appointment of Regina Benjamin for Surgeon General and the influence of money on the health care debate.

BILL MOYERS: This week, Regina Benjamin was nominated by President Obama to be our next surgeon general, charged with keeping the American public informed about our health. She's a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation 'Genius Grant.'

But more important, she's a country doctor, a family physician along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, serving the poor and uninsured. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed her clinic a second time, she mortgaged her own home to rebuild it. The day it was to reopen, a fire burned the clinic to the ground. Moving to a trailer, Dr. Benjamin and her staff never missed a day of work. Dr. Benjamin will no doubt bring that same ethic to the fight for health care reform.

Many of the folks in Regina Benjamin's bayou town are so poor that sometimes she's paid with a pint of oysters or a couple of fish. She buys medicine for her patients out of her own pocket, and she makes house calls.

Now meet H. Edward Hanway, the Chairman and CEO of Cigna, the country's fourth largest insurance company. At the beginning of the year, Cigna blamed hard economic times when it announced the layoff of 1,100 employees. But it reported first quarter profits of $208 million on revenues of $4 billion. Mr. Hanway has announced his retirement at the end of the year, and the living will be easy, financially at least. He made $11.4 million dollars in 2008, according to the Associated Press, and some years more than that.

That's a lot of oysters, although he lags behind Ron Williams, the CEO of Aetna Insurance, who made more than $17 million dollars last year, or John Hammergren, the head of McKesson, the biggest health care company in the world. His compensation was nearly $30 million.

Here's the difference. To Dr. Regina Benjamin, health care is a service, helping people in need with grace and compassion. To Ed Hanway and his highly paid friends, it's big business, a commodity to be sold to those who can afford it. And woe to anyone who gets between them and the profits they reap from sick people.

That behavior includes spending nearly a million and a half a day--a day!--to make sure health care reform comes out their way. Over the years they've lavished millions on the politicians who are writing and voting on the bills coming out of committee. Now it's payback time. See for yourself here on our website, where you'll find a link to campaign contributions and the politicians who right now are deciding who wins and who loses the heath care debate.

That's it for the week. I'm Bill Moyers and I'll see you next time.

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