February 11, 2010
Posted: 12:47 PM ET
A picture tells a thousand words: Taken in 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is cutting the ribbon at the brand new Women's Hospital at Renaissance outside McAllen, Texas.
Everyone is smiling, and with good reason.
Once the ribbon-cutting ended, the schmoozing and fundraising began. The party moved to the home of the developer who built the hospital. The Texas Monthly reported the developer, and the doctors who also invested in his beautiful, sprawling, for-profit medical complex, handed over $800,000 in donations for Pelosi's Congressional Democrats.
One day, $800,000.
Why would a group of doctors and a big developer give so much money to Nancy Pelosi? There's a lot at stake here.
Two national studies about Medicare costs show why McAllen, Texas is a good example of why health care is costing all of us so much.
In McAllen, the medical bill for the average Medicare beneficiary is almost twice as much as the national average, and health care costs are growing faster here than almost everywhere else in the country.
Just walk down any street and you can see why. On almost every corner, in almost every strip mall, every office building, there are doctor's offices, MRI screening centers, medical testing facilities.
And believe me, they are all in use. In our report for Campbell Brown's show, we'll tell you about one patient with a swollen ankle who went through so many tests–including an ultrasound for the abdomen and one to determine testosterone levels–the Texas Medical Board finally said enough.
What a Dartmouth Atlas study found interesting is that all this healthcare being delivered in McAllen does not actually add up to better health.
Which brings me back to that picture and why doctors would invite Speaker Pelosi to dinner and raise money for her?
One doctor who was at this very fundraiser said, "Look at it this way," he told me. "If you are going to take my money way, I am going to bring you to my house, serve you a nice dinner, and do all I can to convince you not to do it.”
In 2009, the hospital's political action committee also donated to House and Senate candidates, including Republicans.
Now, I am in no way implying here that all the donations paid off... but when members of the House of Representatives voted 395 to 34 in December to approve a $636.3 billion defense appropriations bill, tucked inside was a provision that delayed a planned 21.2% cut in Medicare physician payments until Feb. 28, 2010.
And just this week, Democrats proposed the passage of a new jobs bill with yet another two month delay in those Medicare cuts.
Those doctors at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance near McAllen, Texas, must be smiling again. 75% percent of their patients are on Medicare or Medicaid.
The speaker's office did get back to us and took offense to any suggestion political donations influenced any votes in Washington. "The House has on several occasions passed provisions strongly opposed by these doctors and any attempt to ignore this fact is nothing more than a cynical ploy to reach a conclusion that is simply false," Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said in a statement to CNN.
As for the payments to doctors treating Medicare patients, the rules apply to all doctors, the speaker's office told us, not just those she was pictured with in McAllen.
picture above: Courtesy www.EdinburghPolitics.com
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