Sunday, February 1, 2009

Daschle, AHIP, Speakers Fees and Conflict of Interest? Hardly.

The momentum behind Tom Daschle’s confirmation as head of Health and Human Services has been slowed by tut-tutting over an apparent problem with Mr. Taxman’s late payment plus interest plus penalties cut of some unrecognized income. This has prompted additional scrutiny of Mr. Daschle’s finances after he left the Senate, and (gasp!) he’s gotten consulting (yikes!) and speaker (egads!) fees from the healthcare industry including (gulp!) the managed care trade association, AHIP. The implication is that if he’s approved, Americans will be victimized by Cabinet-level conflicts of interest involving the very industry Mr. Daschle is supposed to be bringing to heel.

The Disease Management Care Blog has been to plenty of AHIP meetings and listened to many of its speakers. One in particular was telling. It wasn’t too long after the appearance of the “As Good As It Gets’” expletive filled anti-HMO tirade by actress Helen Hunt. In response, AHIP invited some sanctimonious entertainment industry weenie to lecture us at one of its national meetings about the noble storytelling of the Hollywood elite. No matter that HMOs were invented to and had data that proved the movie’s premise patently false, we were told this was ‘reality’ of denizens of movie-land. What gall. And what a great meeting.

The point is that AHIP meetings’ speakers – in the experience of the DMCB – have amply demonstrated that they’re not being paid to proselytize the AHIP party line. In fact, AHIP has been most interested in having well-attended, profitable, stimulating, educational meetings. That’s why the Tom Daschles of this world get invited.

While the DMCB has yet to invited as a plenary speaker at AHIP (comment from the DMCB spouse - despite his nationally recognized expertise, great speaking skills, being highly sought after and reasonable fees), similar gigs across the industry have never been intended to sway its views of the sponsoring organization. The perception that, somehow, paying Tom Daschle to speak at an AHIP Conference would influence his opinion of AHIP is about as likely as the real-life use of a ‘hypothermic substance’ to save fatally wounded persons’ lives (ala the show '24 Hours') or, come to think of it, the entire premise of the especially repugnant TV show, 'House.'

Last but not least, it says something when the head of the tax setting House Ways and Means Committee and the ultimate boss of the IRS have also run into trouble with our Byzantine tax code. If many current and future qualified public servants are vulnerable, imagine what it’s like for Joe Citizen. Maybe the problem isn’t Daschle, it’s the code itself.

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