September 26, 2009
CAROL MARIN email@example.com
Early Tuesday morning, sitting in a pre-surgical cubicle dressed in the always-awkward hospital gown, I was waiting to be prepped for a routine colonoscopy.
And thinking about President Obama's mission of revolutionizing health care. And about his mantra of bringing "change we can believe in" to Washington.
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On my lap was a stack of newspapers. The story that stood out was by David D. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times. It was headlined, "Health Bill Could Hold Reward for 4 Cancer Centers." His report should make our national blood boil enough to tell Barack Obama that all his compromising on health-care reform isn't reforming Washington one iota.
His story line was simple. In exchange for supporting aspects of the Obama health initiative, some members of Congress, including the leadership of the president's own party, want pork. And so, imbedded in the fine print of the 1,000-page-plus legislation, are sweeteners for certain senators who intend to bring home some bacon in exchange for their vote.
The worst example cited was none other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He wants to ensure that the Nevada Cancer Institute, a cancer treatment center with no particular national reputation, reaps "a big gain in federal reimbursements as part of the health-care overhaul."
Functionally, it's an "earmark," which Obama railed against during the campaign. Kirkpatrick found a number of them tucked in this so-called reform package, written in a wily way to slip by us taxpayers unnoticed, proposals that "would provide more favorable Medicare payment rates to just a handful of specific medical facilities."
I'd call it a scandal but sadly, it's not. "It's just business as usual," says Lou Weisbach, a multimillionaire Chicago entrepreneur who has been on mission to do something truly revolutionary with our health-care system.
Weisbach, 60, is a voice we should be listening to in this debate. He understands money. Back in 1972, he borrowed $3,500 from his mother and began selling T-shirts out of the trunk on the Northwest Side. It turned into a global promotional products company that spawned other enterprises. Today, he's making millions in the sports stadium business.
But somewhere along the way, health care began to dominate his thinking as he began to ask why, in his lifetime, not a single cure had been found for any major disease.
Weisbach and Dr. Richard Boxer, a urologist and onetime candidate for U.S. surgeon general, started putting their heads together, talking to experts around the world and researching what Congress could do to fundamentally rewire the way we approach health care and disease.
What they came up with was the American Center for Cures, a public-private concept that would not compete with the National Institutes of Health but would complement its work and create a Cabinet-level focus on quickly finding cures.
Right now, we spend about a trillion dollars a year on treating the diseases of between 110 million and 150 million sick Americans, Weisbach argues. We have been reactive, not pro-active.
And clearly, research institutions and treatment centers across the country are not pursuing a unified approach on diseases from diabetes to autism to colon cancer.
Weisbach, a longtime, big-money Democratic fund-raiser, has enlisted bipartisan support for this idea, ranging from former Iowa governor and current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and a raft of medical experts. You can find it all at www. theamericancenterforcures.org.
By curing three or four major diseases in the next seven years, Weisbach argues, taxpayers could save $400 billion a year. And businesses would reduce their costs.
Optimistic? Perhaps. But the plan is revolutionary in a time that calls for nothing less.
And it certainly trumps cleverly hiding costly earmarks.
That's old politics. And bad medicine.