As the Senate takes up health care reform, we’re sure to be treated to yet more scenes of our elected officials bending over backwards to kiss the gold-plated butts of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. So far, just about every new turn in the health care battle is confirming what many have known for some time: The US health care system is run largely for the benefit of these corporate giants, rather than for the American people, and no piece of legislation is likely to change that fact.
But to fully appreciate the license these industries have been given to run roughshod over the public interest, you have to take a trip to Connecticut. The state is a longtime home base for the insurance industry, with 72 companies and the nation’s highest concentration of insurance jobs. It also has more than its share of drug and biotech companies. What luck then, for these industries, that the man who appears to hold a swing vote on health care reform is their own Senator Joe Lieberman, who has enjoyed enormous financial support from the insurance companies and plenty from Big Pharma, as well.
While Connecticut may be loyal to its health care companies, the opposite clearly is not true. This week the giant drugmaker Pfizer sent shock waves across the state when it announced its decision to shut down its huge research facility in New London. While some workers will be transferred to a facility in a nearby town, the closure represents a devastating loss of industry and tax base for this working-class coastal city. It also marks the disintegration of an elaborate publically financed urban development scheme that began a decade ago.
After the closure of a naval installation in the mid-1990s left New London in desperate economic straits, Pfizer swept in with promises to revitalize the city with a state-of-the-art R & D headquarters. To serve the company’s interests, the state government decided to use eminent domain to seize private property, uproot residents, and destroy a neighborhood in order to revamp the surrounding area. The state won the right to do so in a landmark Supreme Court case, Kelo vs. New London. But it built nothing on the vacated land. And now Pfizer, as the Wall Street Journal put it, has decided to "bug out." One local resident told the New York Times, "They stole our home for economic development. It was all for Pfizer, and now they get up and walk away."