Jason Altmire: The Politics of Personal Dishonesty
"No man ever went wrong overestimating the gullibility of the American people." (Attributed to P. T. Barnum)
In a previous column, I talked about some aspects of the relationship between newly elected "congressperson" (his politically correct term) Jason Altmire and UPMC. I also promised to remind people about some of the past anctics of Jeffrey Romoff, the off-putting head of that company.
In the late 1990s, UPMC engaged heavily in a PR campaign to assert its supposed excellence in medicine. It told Pennsylvanians to "Choose your health care as if your life depended on it."
In 1998, Mr. Romoff found out he had prostate cancer, and presumably his life depended on how he handled it. He chose to have prostate surgery not at UPMC in Pittsburgh, but rather at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
When the embarrassing news leaked out, UPMC trotted out a hapless spokeswoman to explain. She said Romoff had gone to Hopkins rather than his own hospital system because "the high visibility of his position made it necessary to maintain privacy."
Later, Romoff -- in a rare moment of candor -- indicated that he made the decision because of Hopkins' superiority in matters urological.
One aspect in which UPMC truly does demonstrate superiority is in ensuring the support of elected officials. It does so by contributing heavily, directly and indirectly, to supportive politicians.
For example, UPMC contributed well in excess of $100,000 to the campaign of 12th District congressman John Murtha. He's been a key figure in providing federal pork to fatten Romoff's health care empire in Pennsylvania.
No so coincidentally, Murtha's own campaign -- engorged with UPMC money -- also contributed a nice chunk of cash to Jason Altmire's war chest. In gratitude, the new congressman cast his vote for the ethically challenged Murtha as Democratic majority leader.
In my previous column, I pointed out how Altmire's overall position on health care coincides with UPMC's own financial interests. Basically, he wants no impediments to the health care institution's capacity to increase costs for patients, insurers, and taxpayers.
On the other hand, Altmire would like to expand the government's role in exercising control of one general area of health care. Specifically, he's a critic of the Bush Administration's approach to prescription drug coverage for seniors.
On his web site, he puts it this way: "The Medicare prescription drug bill recently passed by Congress forces seniors to pay thousands of dollars more for prescription drugs and gives large insurance companies the power to overrule doctor's prescriptions. It also contains billions of dollars of profit padding payments for the pharmaceutical industry but does nothing to reduce the cost of prescription drugs."
Let's ask a hard question about that tortured prose: Is any of what Altmire says true?
No, none of it is. It's merely a groups of obvious falsehoods designed to bash insurers and pharmaceutical makers.
Let me prove this assertion by citing my experience and my wife's with Medicare Plan D, a moumental achievement of President Bush's tenure.
In 2006, my wife and I have both received Plan D prescription drug coverage from United Healthcare, under the auspices of the AARP. Before 2006, neither of us had prescription drug coverage, and our combined out-of-pocket drug costs per year were in excess of $5300.
Before I reached the $2250 insurance coverage limit in 2006, I paid $416.32 out-of-pocket. United Healthcare paid $1833.64.
With my wife, the numbers are $772.99 out-of-pocket and United Healthcare paying $1477.01.
In determining who paid what amount, it's important to factor in our Plan D Medicare premiums, which totaled $300.36 each.
When subtracting the premiums, Medicare Plan D saved me $1533.28. It saved my wife $1170.65.
In other words, Plan D cut our drug costs by a combined amount of $2703.93.
My wife and I both went over the coverage limit by September, 2006, and that means we've have been paying full price -- minus a small discount negotiated with drugmakers by United Healthcare-- for medications. In January, 2007, our Plan D coverage will kick in once again.
So, what about Jason Altmire's claim that "The Medicare prescription drug bill recently passed by Congress forces seniors to pay thousands of dollars more for prescription drugs . . . ?"
Plan D saved the Maloneys, who are fairly typical Plan D members, more than $2700. Jason Altmire is wrong, and his campaign statement misled voters.
What about his statement that the Plan "gives insurance companies the power to overrule doctor's prescriptions. . . ?" Again, his assertion is untrue.
I have no idea why Altmire makes the statements he does about health care.
- Is he merely a stooge for UPMC?
- Did he make the (unfortunately correct) assumption that providing misinformation about Plan D would help him defeat incumbent Melissa Hart?
- Does he want to re-shape Plan D as some kind of "free lunch" from the federal government?
In the meantime, Jason Altmire, a man often-seen but never heard, has "a heap of 'splaining" to do regarding his curious statements on health care.