Critical Condition

NRO’s health-care blog.

They Just Don’t Learn


Perceived crisis can make for very bad judgment, and nowhere is that eternal truth more prominent than inside the Beltway. With the arrival of The One and absolute Democratic control of Congress, the groups that provide actual health care and insurance services — the doctors, the hospitals, the producers of drugs and devices, the insurers — knew that the thieves would view them, Willie Sutton–style, as the places where the money is to be found. And so they began to run around in circles like a guy whose mistress was in the bathroom when his wife came home a day early from a visit to her mother.

First they started cutting “deals” with the Beltway thieves, arrangements that from the very beginning were obviously unenforceable and that powerful interests had every incentive to violate. (See my earlier comments about that expedition to the galaxy Stupid herehere, and here.) And the hits just keep on comin’. PR Week reported on October 1 that “PhRMA, the trade group that represents the pharmaceutical industry, has long used partnerships with third-party groups to reach a broader audience and enhance credibility. But in April, the association announced an unlikely alliance with Families USA, a progressive organization that represents consumers.” Thus spake “Ken Johnson, SVP of communications and public affairs for PhRMA. ‘It’s not the number of partners we’re working with that’s different this year. It’s the diversity of the partners.’” The wisdom of this course was confirmed by a true intellectual among the professional flacks, one “Jim Cox, SVP for Hill & Knowlton. ‘If you’re going to be credible, I think there is always a need to have other voices that are there with you. That’s where I think the partnerships and alliances are just absolutely central.’”

Well, all right then: I’m a believer now in the power of diverse partnerships as a force with which to defend private property, capitalism, and our liberty. Except for just a couple of little things. Credibility with precisely whom on precisely what set of questions? Will PhRMA’s “partnership” with Families USA induce Henry Waxman to back off his demands for far more than a mere $80 billion in “contributions” from the drug producers? In precisely what sense is Families USA “with” PhRMA? PR Week may sincerely believe that Families USA “represents consumers,” but that assertion is less than wholly self-evident given that Families USA has not been elected, has not been appointed by anyone elected, and thus has little claim to “represent” anyone other than its own officers. And let us focus on the central question: How is all this “diversity” among the partners working out, guys? Are the various deals being honored? With PhRMA, AHIP, the AMA, AdvaMed, and the AHA all scrambling to save their bacon in light of the prospective provisions of the Baucus version of “reform” — the least confiscatory among the alternatives — the question answers itself.  Would someone please ask Mr. Cox among precisely whom has the “credibility” of PhRMA been enhanced, and by how much; and by the way, how would one measure this? (Perhaps Mr. Cox uses his fees to put these partnerships together as his yardstick; but no one else should do so.) Has Families USA suddenly changed its position on, say, federal price “negotiations” for drugs? Please . . .

More generally: Do the “partnerships” lead the leftists toward the middle, or do they merely facilitate the surrender of the private sector? Merely ask who needs the “partnerships” more — Families USA or PhRMA — and the answer becomes obvious. At some point the private sector is going to have to learn how to do ideological battle; it really is not that difficult, but it is a skill very different from those characterizing most businessmen and their “communications” offices. With that knowledge will come the larger wisdom that the Left cannot be mollified, it cannot be bought off, and that its ultimate goal is political power rather than protecting consumers or any of the other rhetorical props used in its endless masquerade. Partnerships are fine, but perhaps the time has come for the capitalists to ask with whom they ought to partner in pursuit of their long-term interests.

Benjamin Zycher is a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.


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