Monday, April 10, 2006

Richard Pombo Bamboozles Seniors

As some of you may know, Richard Pombo has been organizing “seminars” on Medicare Part D for seniors in his district. It’s bad enough that Pombo voted for the horrible Medicare Debacle bill. But the McNerney Campaign has exposed these “seminars” for what they really are: cynical marketing ploys on the part of a lobbying group with strong ties to Big Pharma and other sectors of the for-profit healthcare industry.

It is deeply unethical for Pombo to invite groups to “inform” seniors when these group have an obvious conflict of interest. I understand that Pombo wants to put lipstick on the Medicare Part D pig, but he should leave his attempts to bamboozle seniors for the campaign trail.

To start off, let’s look at the main player (or should I say front group?) Medicare Today. Here is what a report they commissioned by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP said about Medicare Today (emphasis mine):

Medicare Today is a broad-based partnership of organizations representing seniors, patients, health care groups, employers, and others. The mission of this nonpartisan partnership is to educate and inform Medicare beneficiaries and the public at large on the benefits provided through The Medicare Prescription, Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) and about how millions of seniors will benefit from the new Medicare law. Together, the group is conducting a comprehensive outreach program to reach seniors through a grassroots, person-to-person approach, explaining the Medicare drug benefit and other new Medicare features with clarity and objectivity. Medicare Today is administered by the Healthcare Leadership Council, located in Washington, D.C. (Page 2).

In other words, the sole purpose of this group is to market the MMA to the public. The group has no other purpose, and is instead an astroturf operation run by the Healthcare Leadership Council. Of course, it’s important to know what the HLC is all about in order to assess Medicare Today.

Here is what HLC said about themselves in a statement they made to the FDA (emphasis mine):

The Healthcare Leadership Council is unique in that it represents all sectors of the health care industry that would be affected by the FDA’s bar coding regulation, including hospitals and hospital systems, pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, pharmaceutical and medical-surgical distributors, and medical device manufacturers.

A quick check of Source Watch shows that in 2005, the funding came from their membership, which included:
  1. Abbott Laboratories

  2. Amgen

  3. Ascension Health Care

  4. Baxter International

  5. Baylor Health Care System

  6. Cleveland Clinic

  7. Eli Lilly & Company

  8. Fisher Scientific International

  9. GlaxoSmithKline

  10. Johnson & Johnson

  11. Mayo Clinic

  12. Merck & Company

  13. Pfizer
    So this is hardly an independent or disinterested group. Rather, it chock full of groups with a financial interest in keeping Pombo in office.

    HLC also seems to share an office (1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 550 South, Washington, DC 20004) with the Alliance to Improve Medicare, whose membership is an interesting assortment of big business and the health care and pharmaceutical industries.

    What this all tells us is that Richard Pombo has no interest in providing high-quality, objective information to his constituents. Instead, he voted for a law so complicated that many of its purported beneficiaries cannot make heads or tails of it. And when faced with this fact, he uses the opportunity to bring in a group that lobbied for the law in the first place to tell Pombo’s confused and disheartened constituents how great the law is. It’s absolutely repulsive to me.

    Furthermore, what really bothers me is how badly the press has been covering this. Instead of doing any sort of research, the media in the district has been credulously repeating Pombo’s line about these meetings.

    In fact, the Tracy Press actually condemned McNerney today for seeking to educate the voters of the district about Richard Pombo’s attempt to bamboozle them. The Tracy Press editorial board writes:

    BARB: To the McNerney for Congress campaign for its plans to host a counter-informational health care seminar adjacent to a Medicare Part D meeting for seniors that's sponsored by Rep. Richard Pombo's office. This morning's dueling events in northern Stockton will confuse citizens who seek more details on the federal prescription drug program. It is an improper time and location for Jerry McNerney, a Democratic candidate for Pombo's 11th House District seat, to chastise the congressman's nonpartisan effort, which McNerney claims is being fronted by the pharmaceutical industry.

    Nonpartisan effort? Excuse me, Richard Pombo is finally being confronted with anger at his consistent practice of voting in favor of the interests of his campaign donors instead of the interests of his constituents. And so he gets an astroturf marketing group to lobby his angry constituents in favor of the Medicare Debacle bill? Pombo is not doing his constituents any favor, Medicare Today and the rest of the Big Pharma shills are doing Richard Pombo a favor. And that ought to be obvious to anyone who spends any amount of time looking at this situation. Furthermore, I think it is deeply disturbing that the editorial board would be so quick to condemn McNerney even before they have heard the evidence in this matter.

    Lastly, I want to highlight the role of the McNerney Campaign in exposing this because the local press has been only too happy to take Pombo at his word about these events. And were it not for the McNerney Campaign, none of this information would have gotten out.

    For example, the following is typical of the announcements that ran in the press about these events:

    TRACY — Confused about Medicare Part D? Not to worry, you're not alone and a series of counseling events have been scheduled to help clear things up.

    A Medicare Enrollment Event and Senior Health Fair is being held at the Lolly Hansen Senior Center, 375 E. Ninth St., today from noon to 3 p.m. The event is free to the public.

    Seniors and others eligible for Medicare have only until May 15 to sign up for the Medicare Drug Plan and those who do not enroll or miss the window, may face penalties and will not be able to enroll again until November.

    Congressman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, is sponsoring several seminars throughout his district, and more could be added, a spokeswoman said.

    "Seniors should never go without prescriptions they need and must know we are here to help," Pombo said in prepared statement. "Every senior is eligible to enroll in this program, however to take advantage of this opportunity they must sign-up."

    A seminar is scheduled for 10 a.m., April 10 in Stockton at O'Connor Woods, 3400 Wagner Heights Road, and another is scheduled for 10 a.m., April 29in San Ramon at the San Ramon Senior Center, 9300 Alcosta Blvd.

    All attendees are encouraged to bring their Medicare card, a list of prescription drugs they currently take, and any paperwork sent by Medicare, Social Security or personal health plans that concern Medicare Part D.

    For more information about the upcoming events, call (510) 271-0640, ext. 106.
    "This event is a rare opportunity for seniors to obtain one-on-one counseling and information from experts on the new Medicare Drug Plans," said Dan Cohen, Northern California field director for Medicare Today.

    "In less than an hour, seniors can get all the necessary information, receive individual help and even enroll in a new plan, saving them hundreds of dollars a year on prescription drugs."

    It’s enough to make you sick.


    Anonymous AJ said...


    Another aspect to this, is that this is a form of skirting the campaign finance laws. Basically these groups can do all the "education" they want for a Congressman and not one dime has to be reported.

    "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."

    1:29 PM, April 10, 2006  
    Blogger Delta said...

    Here is what the Tracy Press said about Pombo and McNerney today.

    BARB: To the McNerney for Congress campaign for its plans to host a counter-informational health care seminar adjacent to a Medicare Part D meeting for seniors that's sponsored by Rep. Richard Pombo's office. This morning's dueling events in northern Stockton will confuse citizens who seek more details on the federal prescription drug program. It is an improper time and location for Jerry McNerney, a Democratic candidate for Pombo's 11 th House District seat, to chastise the congressman's nonpartisan effort, which McNerney claims is being fronted by the pharmaceutical industry.

    Now, what are you going to do about the Tracy Press opinion?

    1:41 PM, April 10, 2006  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Mr. 2% of a buck again, and this just in regarding the Tracy Press:

    Nick Juliano's blog has suddenly done a disappearing act, even as the blog from the "weight-loss lady" remains for entertaining the readership.

    Sounds like someone has has a "chat" with the owners of said "fourth estate" about "the news that's fit to print" (and what's NOT.)

    $.02 out.

    7:43 PM, April 10, 2006  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Ummmm...or maybe it's because Nick Juliano now works for the Stockton Record.

    8:10 PM, April 10, 2006  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Mr. 2% of a buck with a rejoinder to "anonymous #1" --

    Maybe the fact that he had been working at the Tracy Press less than one year before suddenly feeling the need to publish elsewhere less than 2 weeks after his last blog entry of March 17th at the "TP" despite being a rising star (who else had a blog at the Tracy Press? Only the publisher herself until the very recent addition of 'stapled stomach suburbanite's blog") substantiates my earlier innunendo, no?

    Note that Nick J's first big story for the record (pun intended) is on the huge and spontaneous protest by many factions in Stockton against HR 4437, sure to bring all of the Pomboites rising to their feet in applause of his coverage...NOT.

    The heat is on.

    $.02 out.

    9:27 PM, April 10, 2006  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Mr. 2% of a buck one more irritating time, with something I forgot to do:

    I forgot to hyperlink the earlier reference to Nick J's employment by the "TP" through at least March 17th, less than 2 weeks before he suddenly appears at the Stockton Record, so here it is:

    March 17th

    Nick's got a story he's not telling us yet...who said what to whom and when and where (we know the why.)

    $.02 out.

    9:44 PM, April 10, 2006  
    Blogger VPO said...

    The story on Nick Juliano is that the Tracy Press was having cutbacks due to financial difficulties. The owners bought another paper and got overstretched. One cutback was that Monday is online only. Another is letting some people go, including Nick J, who was one of their newest people. Fortunately, Nick was able to get a job at the Stockton Record.

    There was no ousting of him due to his stories. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and in this case, that is what it is. The Tracy Press editors are in love with Pombo, and there is little in the way of "facts" that can dissuade them from their sickening partisan boosterism of Pombo.

    So the Tracy Press sucks, but they did not kick Juliano out due to politics.

    Now, back to Matt's post -- EXCELLENT JOB!! That is where we need to focus and the kinds of stories we need out there.

    10:40 PM, April 10, 2006  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Mr 2% of $1,

    Ye be looking for conspiracies that don't exist. Nick J was not forced to leave the TP. In fact, the owners were very sad to see him leave.

    He left of his own volition, in large measure because the Record has about 10x the circulation of the TP.

    As for his blog, well it makes no sense to leave it up with dated stories, esp when he doesn't work there anymore.

    Delta has the right idea: What are you and others going to do about the TP's coverage? Whine about it on this blog? That doesn't really accomplish anything. Why not write a letter to the editor or an opinion piece about their coverage and try to make a difference?

    10:50 PM, April 10, 2006  
    Anonymous edj said...

    Hey everyone -

    The McNerney campaign's exposure of Pombo's cozy relationship with Big Pharma was blogged on Daily Kos today.

    Also, a few Jerry McNerney comments were were included in a California Chronicle piece:

    "Richard Pombo should be working for legislation to control our skyrocketing healthcare costs. Instead he chooses to participate with an industry-backed front organization whose goal isn't to protect seniors, but to protect their outrageous profits through a slick PR campaign," said Jerry McNerney.

    "If you look at his official website, health care isn't even listed as being an issue. Apparently Richard Pombo has become so out of touch, he doesn't even think we have a healthcare crisis," concluded McNerney.

    10:56 PM, April 10, 2006  
    Blogger Wes said...

    EDJ, that is goodness. However, how many people in Tracy read the California Chronicle or check Daily Kos. The number is probably countable without taking off your shoes.

    As it stands, the message that most voters are getting is that Pombo is doing good and that McNerney is a troublemaker just trying to confuse things for partisan benefit.

    I have had several anti-Pombo letters published in the Tracy Press. They probably will not take one from me on this subject.

    We have to learn to talk to a public that is not so interested in blogging or in reading the political press, a public that reads home town news because they care about their home town.

    So, what else are we going to do? Take 5 minutes and fill in this form.

    9:04 AM, April 11, 2006  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    AJ, your funny. After every liberal 527 has coordinated to slander Pombo in the name of "educating the public" your actually going to wimper like a cats prey in heat because he is helping seniors fill out their medicare forms? you sniffing glue or do you just live in SF like the rest of these tie-dyed fools?

    11:52 PM, April 13, 2006  
    Blogger VPO said...

    Lisa V at the CC Times came out with an article on this today, but is like soggy bread. Just kind of "yuck". She does her best to protect Pombo, making it sound like Medicare Today is a reasonable, neutral "education" group with no agenda. McNerney sounds like a whiner. Pombo looks like he is doing something to help seniors, when the bill actually benefits big Pharma companies, the same companies who have contributed substantially to his campaign.

    With articles like this that don't do true investigative journalism, just the barest minimum, consisting mostly of reprinting Pombo and industry PR, we have a difficult uphill battle to get the truth out so the voters can see what a scoundrel he is and oust him in the next election.

    And for Delta, I sent an email to Lisa V about this, complaining that it is not a thorough investigation of the issue.

    CC Times

    7:36 AM, April 14, 2006  
    Blogger VPO said...

    OK, Lisa V responded. I give her a lot of credit for that! Thank you for listening, Lisa!

    Here is what she said:

    "You are way off base here. I'm 'downplaying' an issue by printing it in 200,000 newspapers? I'm disqualified as a reporter because I print both sides' opinions? If I wanted to protect Pombo, I wouldn't have written a story in the first place. I would have passed it off as a challenger's attempt to get publicity and left it to the bloggers. His office certainly wasn't happy with it and neither was Medicare Today.

    If both sides are unhappy, then I've done my job because the readers will be able to decide for themselves.

    Lisa v. "

    11:53 AM, April 14, 2006  
    Blogger VPO said...

    Then I replied back to Lisa:

    "Thanks for the response. I have a lot of respect for your work and know how hard it is to be reporter. I worked as a reporter and editor, as well as have a degree in journalism, so I can understand!

    Actually, I reread your piece after receiving your email, and I think you are right, it was more balanced than it seemed at first. You did present McNerney and other opposition views. I guess I felt you did not emphasize three important points: 1) that Medicare Today gets its money from the drug and insurance companies, and their express mission is to promote this plan, not educate seniors; 2) that the plan has been shown to actually cost seniors more money than other sources of their medications, thereby benefiting the drug companies that fund Medicare Today and other similar groups; and 3) that Pombo receives substantial campaign contributions from these same companies.

    Here's the deal: Pombo is promoting the Medicare Part D plan. This plan has been shown to cost seniors more money by making their meds more expensive. It is a bit complicated due to the way certain expenditure limits work, but a good study of it was done by the House Government Reform Committee for Congressman Tom Allen (D-Maine). He has published it here:

    An excerpt:
    The Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee conducted the study, entitled “New Medicare Drug Plans Fail to Provide Meaningful Price Discounts in Maine’s First Congressional District.” It compared the prices charged by the ten leading Medicare Part D insurance plans in southern Maine for the ten best-selling drugs used by seniors with the prices negotiated for the Veterans Administration (VA) through the Federal Supply Schedule, prices available to Canadians at their pharmacies and prices charged by, a popular and reputable Internet retailer.

    “Their research found that prices offered by the insurance plans in Maine are, on average, almost 80 percent higher than the VA prices, more than 60 percent higher than in Canada and more than five percent higher than over the Internet,” Representative Allen said. “This is bad for Maine seniors because their out-of-pocket costs are higher and the purchasing power of the benefit is lower than they should be, and because they will reach the so-called ‘donut hole’ sooner and federal Medicare expenditures will not go as far as they would toward providing more prescription drugs and more health care to more beneficiaries. The news for taxpayers is even worse because they are footing the bill and getting ripped off in the process.”

    The “donut hole” is the gap in the Medicare Part D benefit, between $2,250 and $5,100 in drug expenditures, where seniors are responsible for 100 percent of the cost of their prescription drugs.

    So Pombo works with an industry front group that calls itself "nonpartisan" and "non-profit". This group sole purpose is to promote this plan, not to "educate" seniors. They are not unbiased in this. A PriceWaterhouseCoopers report says:

    The mission of this nonpartisan partnership [Medicare Today] is to educate and inform Medicare beneficiaries and the public at large on the benefits provided through The Medicare Prescription, Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) and about how millions of seniors will benefit from the new Medicare law.

    That is their express mission, claiming the law "benefits" million of seniors. But how is that true when the drug prices are almost 80 percent higher than what the government gets when it negotiates directly with the drug companies? How come the Medicare Part D drug prices are 60 percent higher than in Canada?

    The question is who suffers from higher prices (seniors) and who truly benefits (drug companies). So what Pombo is really promoting is a plan that costs seniors more while improving the profits of the drug companies -- the same ones underwriting the "non-partisan", "neutral" Medicate Today. And, funny enough, also, the same ones contributing to Pombo's campaigns.

    That is what this is about in a short summary. There is obviously more to it. But you and I are both citizens. We are not big drug companies or politicians. What I would hope the newspaper would do is truly look out for the older members of our society. I personally have no stake in this, except that I have older relatives and will one day be old myself. The Medicare Today group is looking to protect the drug and insurance companies, not seniors. Pombo is looking out for his campaign contributors. Who is left to defend the seniors and help them? You and I and other common citizens. I see that as the job of a journalist, to speak the truth and investigate the powers that be.

    Maybe a good report here would be to do what the House Government report did -- what prices are the seniors paying under this new plan, versus other government programs, in Canada, or over the Internet? Does Pombo's assertion that this is saving seniors money actually ring true? That is the bottom line and would be well worth finding out."

    11:54 AM, April 14, 2006  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Mr. 2% of a buck again (I've been very interested in this discussion about Medicare Today, by the way), with some breaking news about one of our Democratic candidates:

    1) Remember when Filson swore up and down after the Q4 reports showed him with a lot less in contributions than was believed, that he would do much better in Q1 once the holidays and special elections were out of his way?

    2) Well, that 200K he swore he would have as "cash in the bank" when the Q1 reports were in looks like it just up and disappeared once they tallied up all the bills that they had to pay -- look here -- not only does he not have much more in the bank than last time, but

    3) It would appear he might (can't tell yet, McNerney and McCloskey have yet to report as of right now) have the least amount of free cash of the three major contenders to "El Dicko", or at least tied with Jerry for second place, so

    4) Should both Steves pull out of the race as good loyal Democrats so as to not make McNerney waste more of his precious loot than necessary, and save it for the rainy day in November?

    Where's the (viability) beef, CF and "Rick"?

    $.02 out.

    4:05 PM, April 14, 2006  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    "Crashed and burned, eh Mav!"

    5:48 PM, April 14, 2006  

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