Every now and then, we get an anonymous comment criticizing our "lack of balance" or words to that effect, maybe because we criticized some action by a big, often but not always for-profit, health care organization.  We usually respond that we have no obligation to be balanced, since
- We publish opinion, not hard news
-  It is questionable that even hard news reporters must report all opinions on an issue, if some of those opinions are demonstrably less credible
-  There are far more voices extolling the wonderful "innovations" provided by our current "best health care system in the world," than providing our sorts of criticism.

To expand on that last point - a recent news item suggests how much of the health care policy debate is paid marketing and public relations, rather than individual voices of citizens, health care professionals, or even health care policy experts.

From the AP, via the Seattle Post -Intelligencer,

A new analysis finds the nation's health care overhaul deserves a place in advertising history as the focus of extraordinarily high spending on negative political TV ads that have gone largely unanswered by the law's supporters.

The report, released Friday by nonpartisan analysts Kantar Media CMAG, estimates $445 million was spent on political TV ads mentioning the law since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Spending on negative ads outpaced positive ones by more than 15 to 1.

In particular,

In the 2014 congressional races, 85 percent of the anti-Obama ads were also anti-'Obamacare' ads, the analysis found. In some competitive races, 100 percent of the pro-Republican TV ads aimed at Democrats contained anti-health law messages.

Over the four years, an estimated $418 million was spent on 880,000 negative TV spots focusing on the law, compared to $27 million on 58,000 positive spots, according to the analysis. Nearly all of the spending was on local TV stations, in races ranging from state offices such as treasurer and governor to Congress and the presidential election.

That is just amazing.

My concern is not so much that much of this advertising is against "Obamacare."  We have not often written about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka "Obamacare," and what we wrote at best was mild praise.  As I posted back in 2009, very little of the law had anything to do with the issues we discuss on Health Care Renewal.  In my humble opinion, since the law went into effect, it has increased access to health insurance, especially for certain groups of people that commercial health care insurers previously spurned, e.g., older people and people with pre-existing diseases.  It also contained provisions that might increase disclosure of conflicts of interest, and foster comparative effectiveness research.  On the other hand, the law has done nothing to reduce concentration of power in health care.  It has done nothing to make health care leaders more accountable, especially for their organization's unethical or even criminal behavior, decrease their ability to line their pockets regardless of such behavior, and thus reduce their impunity.  It will not obviously decrease conflicts of interest affecting those who make decisions about patient care or health policy, lock the revolving door between government and the health care industry, end manipulation of clinical research to serve vested interests, or suppression of research whose results offend such interests, etc, etc.  So there is plenty to discuss about health care reform and related matters of health care policy.

Yet a major venue of US public discussion about health care policy, at least having to do with health care reform legislation, appears to be 15 -60 second paid television advertisements.  Often who pays for these ads are obscure, as certainly are the identities of the advertising or public relations firms that actually craft them.  Certainly, the ads do not explain who might profit were what they urge be implemented. The ads may appeal to emotion, or engage in logical fallacies.  And they appear in millions of peoples homes day in and day out.

Such advertising, added to all the other billions of dollars worth of marketing and public relations that swirl around health care, make any sort of intelligent discussion very difficult.  The advertising frenzy renders the voices of individual citizens, health care professionals, and even health policy experts  whispers in comparison.

While there are ostensible free speech advocates who defend these advertisements, and maybe who promote the free speech rights of corporations as the same as those of human citizens (without, of course, many of the responsibilities of citizens), none of these vocal self-proclaimed civil libertarians seem to be doing anything to defend the audibility of the voices of individuals in the health care policy debate.

So we will continue to do what we can to bring some healthy skepticism about loud proclamations in health care made by people who stand to gain financially from their effects.  But is it any wonder that our voices create so few echoes?

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