Medicare Drugs and What Politicians "Think"

There should be a simple rule written in huge neon signs in every newsroom: �You don�t know what politicians �think.��

The reason is simple. Politicians do not generally say what they think. They say what will advance their political careers. This is their job. (That is a bi-partisan comment.) If a reporter believes that she knows what a politician actually thinks then she is probably too close to this person to be able to cover them objectively. Reporters best serve the public by reporting what politicians say, and leave it to their readers to determine what the politicians might actually believe (if anything).

For this reason, it was very annoying to read a book review in the Washington Post that tells us that Bill Thomas, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, prohibited Medicare from offering its own drug plan that would negotiate directly with the drug industry because he �thought pitting private insurance companies against one another would inject competition into the drug market for seniors and keep the price of drugs down, without the heavy hand of government.�

While Mr. Thomas said this, do we really know that this is what he thought, as opposed to the competing view that he thought the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are a great source of Republican campaign funds? Sorry, I am not prepared to accept the reporter�s personal assurance on Mr. Thomas�s thoughts, and the Washington Post would do best to keep them out of the paper, except on the editorial pages.

(One reason that I question the reporter�s assessment is that if Mr. Thomas really had such confidence in private insurers, he could have allowed Medicare to offer a plan competing with them. If the private insurers were actually more efficient, then the public would vote with their feet and sign up with the private plans. However, Mr. Thomas was unwilling to let the private sector demonstrate its superiority in the free market.)

--Dean Baker

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