Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Held hostage by our healers

Posted By on Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Has the imposition of a 2.3 percent tax on the flourishing medical device industry made it so the lame shall not walk and Little Nell shall die?

Steve Ferguson, chairman of the famed Bloomington-based Cook Group, waxed no less dire than that in his recent op-ed piece in The Star, the latest salvo in a conservative holy war on the tax that pays for some of the Affordable Care Act.

A law that every honest observer has to agree is a bounteous gift to the health-care industry is nevertheless flayed by that industry for every little needle prick it induces. And for Indiana moguls and politicians, that means characterizing even a modest tax on medical devices as a death threat to one of our signature enterprises. In Ferguson’s essay, the death threat is literal, and the little guy gets it unless Cook is set free to save him.

“Whether it was a delayed device to help crippled children walk or a mothballed breakthrough to reduce back pain, this tax has hurt American patients in the two years it has been in effect,” he thunders. “When research and development budgets are trimmed and companies watch profits evaporate to pay a new tax, patients pay the steepest price.

Higher taxes on this industry mean conditions like diabetes, coronary disease and cancer will persist. Suffering will be prolonged. Fewer cures will be developed. Fewer lives will be saved.”

Really? The Cook Group, with annual revenues estimated at $2 billion, one of the fairytale success stories of American business, party to the most expensive health care in the world, has been rendered helpless to prevent loss of lives because the totalitarians in Washington sent its taxes soaring by 2.3 percent?

I pay a far higher rate than 2.3 percent on my income taxes, in large part because I’m helping make up for what Cook would be paying if top-end tax rates had not plummeted since the (very prosperous) 1960s. My health-care supplement premium went up 70 percent this year. I will not die because of that.

Steve Ferguson has more complicated finances than I have. I am not qualified to tell him how to run his business. But I will swear on the name of Hippocrates his company can afford a 2.3 percent tax on its products, and the fact he can count on credulity from elected officials when he cries doom for the sick and disabled shows me he’s out to run my government.

He’s not alone. Just a few days after Ferguson’s Dickensian scenario, the Colts’ stadium’s namesake, Forrest Lucas, was on television warning that animal rights activists who seek humane treatment of mega-farm animals endanger the very existence of the nation because their crusades will hike the price of food beyond our ability to feed ourselves.

Turns out that the oil additive magnate, who loves to boast of his purchase of Steve Hilbert’s residential monstrosity in Carmel, also generates wealth from egg production, a phenomenon that’s drawn widespread disgust and prompted new laws and regulations over the life imprisonment of thousands of hens in immobilizing cages.

Lucas represents an oppressed group in many government halls, including our Statehouse, where the “right to farm” runs interference for the license to profit. We can debate details of confined feeding and its impact on animal and human health, but public policy debate isn’t what Lucas – or his more subtle and articulate peers – want. For this flamboyantly rich celebrity to tell us he fears he’ll lose the capacity to provide us affordable eggs if he is put through inconvenience is yet another dramatization of the blithe sense of entitlement that big business has assumed in this new Gilded Age.

Usually, the posture is manifested with more subtlety that these guys bothered to show. But the theme is more and more familiar: We must have a tax cut, a tax subsidy, a right-to-work law, a bailout, a license to pollute, or we’ll just be forced to close down, to leave town, to raise our prices beyond the peasantry’s reach, or allow the Reaper into your bedroom. Just a word to the wise.

I remember when we were a lot more inclined to call their bluff. Now we seem to have lost our spirit – or our Spirits, who could remind us that Tiny Tim didn’t die, and why.

Dan Carpenter is a freelance writer, contributor to Indianapolis Business Journal and the author of "Indiana Out Loud."

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