SIMMONS: Political shenanigans of health care are sickening

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If you support health care reform, stay away from the D.C. model.

Serious problems can be traced to at least 2002, the year that managed-care businesses started reaping millions upon millions of dollars in city contracts because of failed oversight, according to a 2004 report in The Washington Times.

The common denominator — David A. Catania, at-large independent — has got to go as chairman of the council’s Committee on Health.

Fresh eyes and a new vision are sorely needed.

Claiming to be a staunch advocate of ensuring that medical services and products are accessible and affordable to the underserved, uninsured and illegal immigrants, Mr. Catania introduced his blueprint, the Universal Healthcare Access Act, in 2005 when he took the reins of the Health Committee.

His other political handiwork includes making sure that the city stocked up on supersized condoms, supporting same-sex marriage and urging the distribution of medical marijuana.

His oversight also led to this: The D.C. Department of Health reported in June an uptick in heterosexual residents with HIV.

In 2008, about 5.2 percent of heterosexual men tested positive with the virus that causes AIDS in areas with high infection rates and poverty, according to a 750-participant survey funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, a 482-participant survey showed the rate had risen to 8 percent. Among straight women, the rate rose from 6.3 percent in 2008 to 12.1 percent two years later, the survey indicated.

Also questionable are Mr. Catania’s motives regarding D.C. Healthcare Systems and closely tied businesses — D.C. Chartered Health Plan, Chartered Family Health Center and RapidTrans — all of which won hundreds of millions of dollars in city contracts for campaign financier Jeffrey Thompson, who now is under a federal microscope.

As The Times’ Jim McElhatton reported in March, Mr. Catania received a $1,000 check from Mr. Thompson’s D.C. Healthcare Systems on March 27, 2006, and another $1,000 check that same day from RapidTrans.

Mr. Thompson and his companies’ largesse showed patterns of campaign giving that apparently ran afoul of D.C. campaign finance law by “combining to give twice and sometimes three times the maximum donation to city politicians in a single day, records show,” Mr. McElhatton wrote.

Mr. Catania, who received contributions along with virtually every other sitting politician in the District, did not acknowledge even the appearance of conflict.

“They were fully vetted by [D.C.] campaign finance [officials],” said Catania spokesman Brendan Williams-Kief. “Any contributions by Jeff Thompson or related companies in the past have had no impact on council member Catania’s willingness to provide heavy and strong oversight.”

So much for oversight.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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