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How Malcolm Gladwell Shilled for the Health Care Lobby ... and Got Away with It

Gladwell has carried water for the health insurance companies in his articles, while getting paid for numerous speaking engagements to the industry.

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Considering that Gladwell spent almost half his life in Canada under a government-run healthcare system, the explanation just didn't make any sense. The man had been broadcasting health insurance propaganda since the early 1990s, and that's the only excuse he could come up with?

The real answer is simpler: times had changed. 

By the mid-2000s, Americans weren't buying the whole free-market tough medicine talk. Between 60 to 70% supported single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare programs. Even doctors began to support single-payer reform. “Where only 18 percent of AMA members favored single-payer reform in 1992, the figure had soared to 42 percent by 2004,” wrote the  American Prospect in 2008, noting that a solid 70 percent of pediatric cardiologists were in favor of a single-payer system in 2003.

It's very rare for 70% of Americans to agree on anything, but as far as healthcare was concerned, a clear consensus had emerged: Americans no longer bought AHIP's lies about government-run healthcare being a slippery slope to rationing, death panels and medical totalitarianism. 

In this kind of environment, it was no longer useful or even convincing for Gladwell to stick to his old, hardline position favoring private health insurance. In fact, doing so would have likely damaged his reputation and blown his “objective journalist” cover. It was obvious to everyone that private healthcare was not a solution, and only libertarians, regressive right-wingers and obvious corporate shills were pushing that position.

But while an overwhelming majority of Americans were aligned against private health insurance companies, Gladwell's underlying beliefs and assumptions hadn't shifted a bit. He was still firmly on the side of the private health insurance industry. But now, instead of extolling the virtues of free-market medicine, he was whitewashing the role that the health insurance lobby played in corrupting and perverting America's healthcare system. 

The most recent and shameless example: In 2005, Gladwell published an article in the New Yorker that was supposed to be, among other things, an exploration of why America is one of the few developed countries without some form of universal healthcare. In reality it was an insidious piece of health insurance propaganda that did two things: 1) it whitewashed the role of corporate front groups like AHIP in snuffing meaningful healthcare reform, and 2) it put the blame squarely on unions and organized labor.

The article made no mention of corporate lobby groups like AHIP. In fact, in Gladwell's version of healthcare history, these groups simply did not exist.

Redacting the role of corporate lobby groups in attempts to derail universal healthcare, and pinning these attempts instead on unions is whitewashing of the most treacherous, disgusting kind. It's an interpretation of history that completely ignores the role played by the big business, the medical lobby and all sorts of corporate advocacy groups that aligned time and time again to stomp out any possibility of universal healthcare following World War II. You'd expect this sort of corporate revisionism from rightwing pundits like Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage, but not from The New Yorker's top writer.

This was not an honest mistake on Gladwell's part. Corporate interference in healthcare reform is not an obscure historical fact. It pops out as soon as you start researching the subject. There are plenty of historical examples of unions supporting universal healthcare, even as corporate interests did their best to undermine it. 

One example: the government-run universal healthcare program proposed by President Truman in 1945, which was supported by unions but defeated as a result of a fierce lobbying and red-baiting campaign by corporate interests, including the powerful American Medical Association. Gladwell didn't have to hit the library stacks to dig up this historical information— the website of Harry S. Truman Library spells it out very simply and clearly.

 
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