Once again, the foxes are guarding the hen house

With Chief Justice John Roberts supporting the congressional right to pass the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) the politics of health care rises to the top of the list in New York State. Let there be no mistake about it – politics in New York can get very dirty, especially when big money is involved. We had better be very careful. Senator Pedro Espada serves as a perfect example of the toxic mixture of health care, politics and money. His Soundview HealthCare Network clinic is now closed thanks to his political corruption. First he raised people’s expectations about health care and then he crashed them. New York is certainly not the only state where politics can get dirty – it’s just the way the game is too often played. When you are a state senator, you are powerful. When you are a corrupt state senator, not only are you powerful, you can put your dirty hand into the pot and take money that should go to people who need it a lot more than you do. We have seen it time and again. When dirty politicians like Carl Kruger get to vote, that vote and that influence becomes toxic. A system that allows this kind of thing, in health care or any other area, is poison.

In New York, a lot of influence is doled out to individual senators. In order to put together a winning coalition that can rule the political roost, a leader has to find the votes to make a majority. When the Democrats got their chance, they needed Espada so much that they gave him enormous power. When the Republicans had to put together a winning coalition, they likewise gave the corrupt Kruger enormous power in order to get him on board. When people wanted something from him, they went to his bag man, Richard Lipsky, who put in the order, not unlike a waitress at the local greasy spoon.

When President Obama, as part of his health care legislation, asked that states establish “exchanges” where people can buy their health care insurance, the state Senate Republicans balked. As a result, instead of having a state law establishing the exchanges, Governor Andrew Cuomo established the exchange in New York by executive order. The last thing that Republicans, taking cues from the national party of the same name, were going to do was to help Obama win reelection with his signature heath care program. The problem is that things are going to get complicated. The same political influences that allowed Espada and Kruger to do their dirty work will undoubtedly show their faces in this complicated exchange system. The more complicated it is, the more points of access there will be for the few rotten apple politicians who give a bad name to all their colleagues. We will need to police the new system and that’s easier said than done. In my mind’s eye, I see some politicians drooling over the potential opportunities here.

The question, of course, is one of political will. If we truly want to make the new system corruption free, we will be able to. In the past, however, we have been known to present crooks with opportunities. Our mistake was that we should have extended a single payer system, like Medicare, to all Americans. After all, that system works and we know it. Of course, there are crooks who try to game that system, but it has by and large been highly successful and uncomplicated. Now the powers that be are insisting that the insurance companies get their greedy hands into the mix, hence the complicated exchange system.

Once again, the foxes have been put in charge of the hen house. As Pete Seeger wrote in Where Have All The Flowers Gone, “When will we ever learn?”

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/2/12

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