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Lilly CEO Lechleiter and PhRMA's Boogeyman: a "Government-Run Plan"

Get used to hearing this phrase in the debate over healthcare reform: "a government run-plan." That is the boogeyman that Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter used in his op-ed today in the Wall Street Journal to scare Americans away from universal healthcare coverage. He said:

Providing insurance to millions of Americans through a government-run plan would fail the test. Similar efforts around the world have led to rationing of health care and created hurdles between patients and the most advanced treatments.
Lechleiter didn't create that phrase on his own, of course. It comes from PhRMA, the drug industry lobby group, which used the phrase in a May 6 press release:
... it's hard to determine what a government-run plan would look like at this point. However, we would be opposed to any health reform legislation that potentially results in tens of millions of American workers losing their existing private healthcare coverage.
Reading between the lines, you can see that PhRMA's position can be summed up as "We don't want anyone's existing health insurance taken away, and we don't want a government-run plan." If those two criteria were the basis of healthcare reform it would, of course, be impossible to reform healthcare in this country. Which is exactly what PhRMA wants.

The WSJ's Health blog archly described Lechleiter's position as opposing:

... a "slippery slope" toward a day when all or most Americans would have government coverage.
All Americans with healthcare coverage? Sounds dreadful!

Lechleiter doesn't believe what he's saying of course, and that's because he doesn't have the healthcare coverage that you and I have. When we lose our jobs, we lose our access to medical care. Here's what happens when Lechleiter loses his job (as described on page 31 of this SEC filing):

Basic employee benefits such as health and life insurance would be continued for up to two years following termination of employment. All executives, including named executive officers, are entitled to two years' benefit continuation.
Rather, Lechleiter's op-ed is part of a long, coordinated campaign to oppose reforms that just might give access to medical care for the 40 million-plus Americans who, unlike Lechleiter, don't have guaranteed coverage. Here's the timeline:

August 2008: PhRMA members, realizing Barack Obama will win the election, donate heavily to his campaign in hopes of getting a sympathetic hearing on healthcare.

Nov. 7: Obama chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel indicates he is unsympathetic to the PhRMA agenda, threatening their tax write-offs.

Nov. 14: PhRMA begins campaign to defeat reform before President Obama is sworn in.

Dec 31: Drug companies up their spending on lobbying.

April 2009: Lilly, Pfizer and AstraZeneca make vague, disorganized attempts to become part of the healthcare debate, but AZ CEO David Brennan is criticized for spending up to $1 million on lobbying. PhRMA's softly-softly approach is terminated in favor of something more direct.

May 5: PhRMA puts out a complicated statement with multiple moving parts:

We believe the best way to expand healthcare coverage is by building on the existing employer-based system and expanding access through a public-private approach â€" with a focus on private health insurance expansions and leveraging such public programs as Medicaid and the recently reauthorized State Children's Health Insurance Program.
... we also firmly stand by the success of private competition as a means of providing affordable, comprehensive health coverage.
May 6: PhRMA launches the "government-run plan" idea.

May 11: PhRMA says it "looks forward to working with Administration" on the issue.

May 14: Pfizer announces it will give free drugs to the unemployed. At the same time, Lechleiter makes a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, advocating:

... market-based pricing, based on competition among therapies, undistorted by government interventions.
I don't think that American patients would -- or should -- accommodate themselves to the long waits for care, limited options, and other forms of rationing
And he writes his WSJ op-ed. Disclosure: The author will lose his healthcare coverage in a couple of months. Photo by Flickr user Jon Person, CC
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