No Comment — November 23, 2009, 2:58 pm

Broder’s Healthcare

In a column on Sunday, the Washington Post’s David Broder explains to us that Harry Reid’s healthcare bill is a “budget-buster.” Broder’s latest bloviation even worked its way on to the floor of the Senate prepublication, as Mitch McConnell rushed to tout the latest recruit to the party of No. Harry Reid responded that Broder was “a retiree who writes a column once in a while.” But that was far too kind.

It’s worth looking at what passes for logic in Broderland. He quotes a series of polls saying that whatever healthcare bill is passed will be a budget-buster. The central theme of his piece is that the people are right and that we should ignore the report of the Congressional Budget Office, which found Reid’s bill would produce savings of about $130 billion. For Broder, this means that the CBO “gave its qualified blessing” to the Reid bill, but anyone familiar with the process knows it means nothing of the kind. The CBO is not in the business of approving bills. It merely assesses their likely impact on the budget.

At first Broder seems to think that we should take policy guidance from the polls and dispense with professional experts. But then it turns out he has “other experts” in mind:

While the CBO said that both the House-passed bill and the one Reid has drafted meet Obama’s test by being budget-neutral, every expert I have talked to says that the public has it right. These bills, as they stand, are budget-busters.

Broder sounds awfully selective in his experts. No doubt, experts closely aligned with the healthcare industry and the G.O.P. constantly stream the message that Broder does. But the CBO are budget experts, with a great deal of hands-on experience in doing what they do. They’re also strictly nonpartisan, unlike the “experts” that Broder has engaged—like Douglas Holt-Eakin, the principal economics advisor to the McCain-Palin ticket.

Perhaps there’s a good reason why Broder would have ready contact with experts who see things as the healthcare industry does. Recall Ken Silverstein’s exposé of Broder’s cushy arrangements with corporate sponsors, apparently in violation of Washington Post ethics guidelines, and look at what those interests were:

Last October’s Western Conference of Prepaid Medical Service Plans, “an organization comprised of 31 member companies, primarily Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans, principally located throughout the Western United States and Canada.” The event was held at the La Quinta Resort & Spa, “a legendary hideaway and meeting destination, renowned since 1926 for its charm and serenity. La Quinta Resort & Club features 90 holes of some of the country’s best golf . . . [and] a variety of unique indoor and outdoor treatments including PGA WEST Golf Massage, open-air Celestial Showers Sacred Stone Massage and more.”

According to a draft agenda, Broder was set to speak on October 16. Two days earlier, he wrote a column for the Post called “A Market Makeover For Health Insurance,” which hailed the release of a new report by the Committee for Economic Development (CED), “a high-powered business group,” which called on “government to restructure the private insurance market in less rigid form than Hillary Clinton proposed 14 years ago—and then step back and let competitive market forces do their invaluable work of forcing recalcitrant insurers, doctors and hospitals to bid against each other on the basis of price and quality.”

Broder said that plans “similar to the one CED has endorsed” were already in place at institutions like the University of California and that the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, “which covers members of Congress,” had a “somewhat similar structure.” The University of California system offers Blue Cross to employees and many federal employees are enrolled in Blue Cross. Putting aside the merits of the CED plan and Blue Cross’s position on it, shouldn’t Broder at least have disclosed that he was speaking at the La Quinta Conference?

And then there is this conference, which Broder told WaPo’s ombudsman he had cancelled out of at the last minute—though there is no evidence of his having done so.

The Gartner Healthcare Summit 2007, held last November at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa. “Catalyzing Collaboration Between Healthcare Providers and Insurers,” says the event website. Broder was to give a talk on “Technology in Healthcare.”

As his attendance at events like this shows, Broder has access to a large number of healthcare budget experts. And there’s no doubt as to their sympathies on the subject, or about his. He’d do a lot better to acknowledge his relationships openly rather than pretend to be an objective outsider.

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