Ask Maggie Mahar
Meet Maggie Mahar. You’ll be seeing more of her on the JOURNAL this week, when we present MONEY-DRIVEN MEDICINE, a film produced by Academy Award winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (TAXI TO THE DARKSIDE, ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM). Ms. Mahar was kind enough to take questions from The Moyers Blog readers, so, over the next two weeks, as you watch the debate over health care reform unfold please submit your questions here. We’ll post her answers after next week’s edition of the JOURNAL.
Why Maggie Mahar? She was kind enough to introduce herself below.
I began to learn about the healthcare industry while I was a writer and senior editor at Barron’s -- from 1986 through 1997. During that time I covered both Wall Street and Washington, and wrote stories on a wide range of subjects.
Many of those stories focused on healthcare companies: drug-makers, device-makers, insurers and for-profit hospitals. I also wrote about managed care, the FDA and its battle against Big Tobacco. I analyzed the Clintons’ plans for healthcare reform. I compared non-profit HMOs to for-profit HMOs.
What I learned, during those years, is that in our health care system, profits often trump patients. A great many people are selling and selling hard. By law, for-profit corporations are supposed to put their shareholders’ interests first: this means that they must strive to maximize profits. And this goes a long way toward explaining why U.S. healthcare is so expensive.
In 2003, I began writing MONEY-DRIVEN MEDICINE: THE REAL REASON HEALTH CARE COSTS SO MUCH. (Harper/Collins, 2006) At the time, I believed that when President Bush left office, the country would be ready for a political pendulum swing—and health-care reform would, once again, become a possibility. (Admittedly, I didn’t foresee that Bush would be re-elected. The book was early.)
When I began to gather material for the book, I knew that I wanted to talk to a great many doctors—and I started calling them. The great majority did not know me. I expected responses from perhaps 20 percent. Instead four out of five called back. Most talked for 30 minutes—or longer. To a man, and to a woman, they were most passionate about what many saw as the declining quality of health care. With few exceptions, I was struck by their genuine concern, not only for themselves, but for the plight of their patients, the state of their profession, and their own inability to cope with the problems.
“We want someone to know what is going on,” explained one prominent Manhattan physician as he explained how much care had deteriorated in many of New York City’s major hospitals. “But please don’t use my name,” he added. “You have to promise me that. In this business, the politics are so rough, that would be the end of my career.”
Currently, Ms Mahar edits the blog Health Beat,a project of The Century Foundation, where she is a fellow. As a financial journalist, she wrote for such news organizations as INSTITUTIONAL INVESTOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES, BARRON’S and Bloomberg News. Her first book BULL! A HISTORY OF THE BOOM—1982-1999, was recommended by Warren Buffet in Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report.