Saturday, June 13, 2009

Key Lawmakers in Health-Care Debate Reveal Investments in Health Industry

No wonder single payer was off the table from the start...

Almost 30 key lawmakers helping draft landmark health-care legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments in a sector that could be dramatically reshaped by this summer's debate.

The list of members who have personal investments in the corporations that will be affected by the legislation -- which President Obama has called this year's highest domestic priority -- includes Congress's most powerful leaders and a bipartisan collection of lawmakers in key committee posts. Their total health-care holdings could be worth $27 million, because congressional financial disclosure forms released yesterday require reporting of only broad ranges of holdings rather than precise values of assets.
While no congressional rules bar members from holding financial stakes in industries they regulate, some ethics experts suggest that it often creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, particularly if there is a chance that the legislation could result in a personal financial boost.

"If someone is going to be substantially enriched by the consequences of the vote, particularly if it represents a meaningful amount of their net worth, then there is a problem," said Harlan Krumholz, a professor of medicine at Yale University. "This is such important legislation that you don't want to be tainted by any conflict."

But many legal experts say the health-care industry is so predominant that it is impossible for lawmakers to avoid financial ties to that sector, suggesting that the best antidote is a clear disclosure system that makes every lawmaker's finances publicly available. Robert L. Walker, a Washington lawyer and former House and Senate ethics counsel, said that in many cases, members of Congress are "simply one of perhaps thousands or more" investors in a single corporation and such investments are not "prohibitive conflicts."


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