Weekly Pulse: Are We There Yet?

Lindsay Beyerstein

This week in healthcare, the Pulse adopts what doctors call a "watchful waiting stance." So much is happening, yet so little has actually happened. A spokesman for Rep. Pete Stark, chair of a powerful subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee, told Elana Schor of TPM Election Central that healthcare reform could happen this year--and between Congress and the White House, there is every reason to be optimistic. Barring unforeseen disaster Democratic Congress will score an early victory and pass the renewal and expansion of the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a popular program that funds health insurance for the children of the working poor. The Bush administration twice vetoed this critical program. The expansion would cover 4 million new kids and be paid for by an increase in cigarette taxes. The Washington Independent reports that Big Tobacco is fighting a lonely battle against this plan, forsaken by Big Pharma, the health insurance lobby, and even moderate Republicans. The House is expected to vote on a bill today or tomorrow. Tobacco is on the losing end of the battle again, as Kevin Drum of Mother Jones writes approvingly of William Corr, Obama's nominee for deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Corr's the executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (as opposed to a Bush-era tobacco industry flunky) and has extensive experience with healthcare policy. "Corr started his career running nonprofit health clinics in Appalachia, and, in a major departure from the last eight years, he has actually worked inside the agency he's been chosen to run," Drum says. Other appointments aren't getting such glowing responses. Despite initial guarded optimism, doubts about the qualifications of CNN medical reporter Sanjay Gupta to be Surgeon General have emerged among reporters. Chris Hayes of The Nation made an appearance on Keith Olbermann's show to discuss the prospective appointment. Gupta is vaunted as a great medical communicator, but reporters are concerned about Dr. Gupta's willingness to speak frankly on sex ed or accurately about marijunana. Rep. John Conyers, the House's most prominent advocate of single-payer healthcare, has written to President-elect Obama protesting the Gupta pick. Ezra Klein notes in The American Prospect that Gupta may be Obama's ace in the hole when it comes to actually passing a healthcare reform plan. He thinks Hillary Clinton's plan failed because she didn't have an effective media strategy. Now that it's Obama's turn, Gupta might be just the man for the job. With the new administration in the wings, progressives are starting to hope that issues that were ignored during the Bush years might get fresh attention. For example, debate over the so-called "War on Drugs" is expected to intensify in the Obama administration. Drug policy has taken a back seat to counter-terrorism in recent years. But with police departments are strapped for cash, prisons overflowing with non-violent drug offenders, the American military is stretched thin with regular wars, and world scientific opinion in coalescing around tested strategies like needle exchange and other forms of harm reduction, we may be due for another national conversation. To get the ball rolling, Tony Newman of AlterNet outlines five key steps to transforming America's failed drug policy. "Wellness has to be cool. And prevention has to be a hot thing. And we've got to make prevention hot and wellness cool," Tom Daschle told Congress last week. Let's hope that philosophy extends to truly public prevention strategies, like cleaning up the environment and the workplace, not just to tweaks to the lifestyles of individuals. Terry Allen of In These Times notes that we spend billions of dollars seeking cures and treatments for cancers that could be prevented by controlling people's exposure to known carcinogens: Humanitarians and scoundrels alike at hospitals, pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies, university and private research programs, and government bureaucracies have stakes in the treatment industry. Not only is prevention less lucrative, but it is also likely to cost industries vast profits if they stop using, discharging or cleaning up known carcinogens — or compensating those who fall ill. Speaking of cancer prevention, Vanessa of Feministing.com notes that the FDA rejected Merck's request to market Gardasil to women between the ages of 27 and 45. The vaccine has been shown to be effective against the viruses that cause the majority of cervical cancer, when administered to women in their teens and early twenties. There are reasons to question whether the vaccine will be as effective in older women, who may already have been infected with the virus. Debbie Nathan of RH Reality follows up on a New York Times story on the complications of DIY abortions. The Bush administration's eleventh-hour attempts to cement its social agenda may hurt terminally ill patients as well as women seeking reproductive healthcare. Barbara Coombs Lee notes in RH Reality that the same "conscience" regulations that would allow federal employees to deny birth control or abortions based on religion would also empower them to refuse pain relief to dying patients if the side effects of the pain control could hasten their deaths. The Bush administration can't end fast enough. Be sure to check out Stimulus Plan NewsLadder dedicated to the latest and most in-depth reporting and analysis on the Obama administration's economic stimulus plan. Take a look and come back often. 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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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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