Health Care

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Health care is a human right and most developed countries guarantee universal health care coverage to all their citizens. The United States of America is an exception to this rule among developed countries, because in the U.S., powerful for-profit industry interests including the insurance, drug and medical establishments have thwarted health care reform for decades to ensure their continued profits.

Some of the common issues in health care-related public relations (PR) are discussed below.

Insurance Industry Manipulations

Wendell Potter was formerly Vice President of Corporate Communications for the CIGNA corporation. He left CIGNA in early 2008 and in May, 2009, became Senior Fellow on Health Care with the Center for Media and Democracy. On June 24, 2009 he testified before the U.S. Senate in Washington, DC and since has been sharing his knowledge of health insurance industry PR and lobbying with the public.

National Health Care Plan

Disease Mongering

Disease mongering promotes non-existent diseases and exaggerates mild problems to boost profits, the Public Library of Science Medicine reported. --BBC News

Regarding the "bird flu" pandemic scare perpetrated by the faith-based, science-free Bush regime, an article by Peter Doshi on 21 March 2006 in Christian Science Monitor notes that "There are better ways to promote America's health than selling sickness through the language of fear. Before the government employs "all instruments of national power," including "quarantine authority," as the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza declares, we need to be told what "pandemic flu" really means. So far, we have not been given the full story in plain language."

Drug industry PR

  • "While the common image of the legal drug industry is of workers in white lab coats, the reality is that public relations, marketing and administration commonly absorb twice the amount spent on drug research and development." [1]
  • "Overall, the drug industry spent $235.7 million from 1997 to 1999 to lobby officials in Congress, and the executive branch. This amount does not include tens of millions more spent on television, radio and newspaper ads, direct mailings and telemarketing efforts." [2]
  • "In 1999, the five networks, including CNN and Fox News, received $569 million in advertising revenue from pharmaceutical companies, according to TNS Media Intelligence. In 2004, that number had nearly tripled, to $1.5 billion." [3]

Industry Payola

U.S. drug companies spent more than 800 million dollars over the past seven years in campaign donations and lobbying that have produced favorable laws and tens of billions of dollars in extra profits, according to a 2005 report by the Center for Public Integrity. [4]

American Diabetes Association

15 May 2005: "After the American Diabetes Association received a large gift from major manufacturer of sugar-sweetened beverages [Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages, the third largest soft-drink manufacturer in the world, after Coca-Cola and PepsiCo], its top medical official is claiming that sugar has nothing to do with diabetes." [5] ref also:Corporate Crime Reporter 20(9), May 16, 2005

National Institutes of Health

"Internal investigations at the National Institutes of Health have found 44 of the agency's medical researchers violated conflict of interest rules by their relationships with private companies." --Free Speech Radio News, 15 July 2005

The politics of cancer

The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society (ACS) are not immune to the influences of pharmaceutical and chemical companies which profit from detection and treatment, and are at risk of exposure for contributing to environmental pollutants and product toxins in general use.

Cancer Prevention Coalition at PreventCancer.COM is clearly confronting the conflicts of interest within the American Cancer Society.

Contrast with preventcancer.ORG, registered in 2002 to Cancer Research Foundation of America, later the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation which claims to focus on prevention "through lifestyle changes or early detection followed by prompt treatment", the same line offered by ACS. Talking about "lifestyle changes" in the presence or context of childhood cancer is the height of stupid hypocrisy at best. Then, they're openly sponsored by Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline and have no interest whatsoever in prevention.

The National Academies .... Institute of Medicine .... National Cancer Policy Board .... Project: Fulfilling the Potential for Cancer Prevention and Early Detection .... will describe the potential reduction in cancer-related illness and death using two cancer prevention and control strategies--behavioral risk factor modification and cancer screening. The report will:

1) review factors influencing the decisions of consumers, health care purchasers, and providers when considering cancer prevention and control interventions;

2) assess whether cancer prevention interventions are effectively used; and 3) identify the barriers to their use. The report will conclude with recommended policies to promote evidence-based cancer prevention practice within health care and community practices.

A list of the sponsors are as follows:

Source Reference: Project Page and Final Report

  • does little more than blame the victim for lifestyle; which is a preposterous conclusion for childhood cancers; and does not mention environmental toxins as contributory.

"Despite the undeniable success of the National Institutes of Health as the world's largest supporter of biomedical research and training, important organizational changes are needed at the agency for it to meet future challenges effectively, says a new report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. In particular, changes are required to allow NIH to devote additional resources to innovative interdisciplinary research that reflects strategic objectives and cuts across all of the agency's institutes and centers, said the committee that wrote the report. ...
... The special status granted to the National Cancer Institute by the National Cancer Act should be reconsidered, the committee said. Because the NCI director is appointed by the president and the institute's budget is set without input from the NIH director, it is possible that an unnecessary rift may be created between the goals and leadership of NIH and those of NCI." [6]

The Food and Drug Administration

Debate exists over whether and to what extent the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensures safe and effective remedies, favors the products of large drug companies over other practitioners, prevents effective treatments from reaching the consumer, or conversely lets dangerous treatments go on the market without adequate review.

Some criticisms of the FDA include:

To those of us who have long championed the cause of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), this accelerated approval process is filled with bitter irony. I know of no CAM treatments that have been given accelerated approval. It is Big Pharma that reaps the benefit of this relaxed stance, while the FDA gatekeepers remain vigilant against CAM advocates and practitioners. CAM is still held to the high standards of Phase III RCTs [Rigorous randomized controlled trials] ....which, let's face it, are nearly impossible for "the little person" to finance or arrange. And so a great many potentially useful treatments are excluded from mainstream medicine by the same regulators who admit dubious pharmaceutical treatments on the basis of flawed and abbreviated clinical trials.
The undisguised bias of the FDA towards Big Pharma breeds cynicism, bitterness and paranoia in the public. Ironically, it also opens the door to health frauds, since it lends credibility to the often-heard claim that the US government is not seriously interested in evaluating treatments that do not emerge from Big Pharma.
  • An Interview with David Graham, "Blowing the Whistle on the FDA", International Monitor, December 2004: "Two-thirds of FDA scientists are not confident that products approved by FDA are safe. Eighteen percent say that they have been pressured to change their conclusions. Those are horrible statistics for an agency that is supposed to be evidence based and science based."

Processed Food Industry

Access to health care

  • Emergency Medical Care: Robert Pear, Emergency Rooms Get Eased Rules on Patient Care, NYT, September 3, 2003: "The Bush administration is relaxing rules that say hospitals have to examine and treat people who require emergency medical care, regardless of their ability to pay.
  • There should probably be stuff here about the fight over universal health care as well.

Debating Quackery

Other issues

Turning a blind eye to the poisonous facts: "Trade Secrets"

Trust Us - We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future

Violations of Federal Law

Shankar Vedantam, 6 July 2004, Washington Post, "Drugmakers Prefer Silence On Test Data"

The pharmaceutical industry has repeatedly violated federal law by failing to disclose the existence of large numbers of its clinical trials to a government database, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Related SourceWatch articles

External resources