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Weekly Pulse: Drugs, sex and the single payer

By Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC MediaWire Blogger

This week, we bring you news of drugs, sex, and single-payer health insurance, including a fun video clip on Obama's new drug czar from the Rachel Maddow show. Now that Obama has chosen his top healthcare advisers, the administration is beginning to chart a course for healthcare reform. Not surprisingly, there is vigorous debate about what our new healthcare system would look like, and how to pay for it.

Single-payer health insurance was a hot topic for independent media this week. The private health insurance industry has failed to contain costs and cover the majority of Americans. The strain of the employer-funded health insurance system is crippling American competitiveness and leaving consumers unsatisfied. Universal, publicly-funded health insurance would be a better and cheaper alternative, explains Ramón Castellblanch in the Progressive. Castellblanch, an associate professor of health education at California State University, says that single-payer is simply a government-administered insurance program for everyone, not government-administered healthcare.

There's also broad consensus that fixing the healthcare system must involve more than providing health insurance. Insurance is a tool for spreading risk and sharing cost, but it won't fix the deeper problems that made healthcare unaffordable in the first place. In Salon, Rahul K. Parikh, M.D. describes the carrots and sticks built into Obama's plan to motivate doctors to practice evidence-based medicine more efficiently. Evidence-based medicine means treatment supported by the best scientific research. It has been estimated that up to one third of medical treatment is unnecessary and ineffective. Some reformers believe, therefore, that making medicine more evidence-based will improve quality and cut costs.

Maggie Maher argues in AlterNet that such cost-saving reforms are well and good, but we will still need to raise taxes in order to pay for healthcare reform.

Opponents of healthcare reform often try to frighten consumers with claims that government intervention will remove their ability to make choices about treatment. As political scientist Scott Lemieux explains in TAPPED, Obama's healthcare plan would increase choice:

First of all, many people who have insurance are seriously restricted in their choice of physicians. There's nothing about private insurance that guarantees that patients will have wide discretion in choosing who will perform their medical care. For example, Canada's single-payer system would even provide more patient discretion. And then, of course, people without insurance effectively have no choice at all. Obama's plan will at least give many of them more options than they have now. People who can afford to pay out of pocket for the doctor of their choice can still do so.

Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent reports that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is doing his best to convince the public that reforms like comparative effectiveness research would amount to "rationing" of healthcare. As Scott Lemieux argued in his TAPPED post, linked above, rationing is the status quo, as the main rationing criteria is the patient's ability to pay.

Delivering care based on what works, as opposed to who can pay, would be change we can believe in.

If there's one thing we love to write about at the Weekly Pulse, it's czars. All kinds of czars. This week, president Obama picked a shiny new drug czar: Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske. Rachel Maddow discusses the implications of the pick with Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Institute. Some activists are concerned that choosing a cop to run the Office of National Drug Control Policy is a mistake, but Mirken argues that Kerlikowske's record as a pragmatic urban police chief is cause for cautious optimism.

In legal drug-related news, Martha Rosenberg of AlterNet explains why the multi-billion dollar merger between pharmaceutical giants Merck and Schering-Plough is a marriage made in hell, though the two firms do have many common interests: Scientifically dubious research designed to "prove" the efficacy of their latest blockbuster drugs, and questionable "awareness" campaigns to promote their products, to name a few. "Many are saying the drug companies need a new business model, having dealt themselves out of the game with their crash-and-burn blockbusters and with third party and Medicaid benefits managers saying "You've got to be kidding" about extravagant patent drugs," Rosenberg writes.

At TAPPED, Beth Schwartzapfel weighs the pros and cons of making birth control pills available over the counter. Some reproductive health activists believe that making the pill more readily available would help more women manage their fertility with few risks, but some medical professionals caution against the change because they worry that women will miss out on other kinds of care, like pap smears, if they can just buy pills at the pharmacy.

Finally, Kimberly Whipkey of RH Reality Check writes that the FDA has approved the next generation of female condom, and not a moment too soon: Air America reports on an alarming new study that shows the rate of HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C. is on par with those of West Africa. Speaking of AIDS, what medical school did Pope Benedict go to? The pontiff made his first unequivocal pronouncement against condoms this week, sparking pointed criticism from various outlets, including Marissa Valeri of RH Reality and Miriam Perez of Feministing.

Americans are finally realizing that our corporate, profit-driven healthcare system isn't working. (Democracy Now! reports on the formation of the new activist group, Single Payer Action, an organization dedicated to advocating direct action to demand a single-payer health insurance system.) There is widespread political will for sweeping change, even if questions remain as to how to supply high quality healthcare for everyone at an affordable price.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care. Visit Healthcare.NewsLadder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy.

And for the best progressive reporting on the ECONOMY, and IMMIGRATION, check out, Immigration.NewsLadder.net and Economy.NewsLadder.net.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

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