Keep fighting for free speech

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It dawned on me at the New Year, that it was some 20 years ago that the Coalition for Healthcare Communication came into being. Indeed, this year the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame is recognizing one of its founders, Jane Townsend, who in her Woman of the Year speech to the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association gave the clarion call for the medical communications industry to unite to defend our business. 
Townsend's speech followed a throwing down of the gauntlet by a naive FDA attorney at the newly formed AMA-Industry CME Task Force meeting in Chicago in which the bureaucrat promised to regulate commercially sponsored CME out of existence with the support of the then-recently appointed FDA commissioner, David Kessler. The battle lines were drawn, and Townsend exhorted her colleagues to step up. 
While the Coalition has provided excellent leadership over the years, the rest of us have been woefully inadequate, not only at contributing to our own defense, but at enlisting the aid of medical professionals in the trenches and gaining support from regulated industries, most of whom have seen fit to sit on the sidelines when it comes to critical speech suppression issues. 
We've allowed the framing of arguments and the rhetoric of medical ethicists and academics with an agenda to trump our protests. And we've watched as an entire industry has been demonized and a toxic atmosphere created by its vocal critics. Moreover, in light of the recent "health reform" legislation, it promises to get worse before it gets better. 
I must digress for a moment to make my position clear. "Health reform," isn't about healthcare at all; it's about "health financing reform"—it's about how to pay for professional services and products, who should receive them, and who will make the decisions about those things. 
Right now, based on recent passage of legislation, it looks like people who favor government and private-sector bureaucrats making those decisions have the upper hand. The game isn't quite over yet, although the clock definitely seems to be ticking away. The problem is that nobody wants to deal with the hard stuff—such as getting after the one-third of healthcare expenditures that the pundits claim is wasted. Some say as much as $700 billion dollars! That's money that could pay for healthcare for every uninsured and indigent person in America and then some! 
Instead, many academics and bureaucrats favor stifling speech—the provision of information—because people can't use or buy what they don't know about. Regulatory bureaucrats rationalize speech-stifling behavior by claiming it will make us safer. And who better to make decisions about safety than them? Insurance company bureaucrats and now government payers rationalize speech-stifling behavior because it will mean fewer things to pay for. No explanation needed on this one. So, who stands up for free and open scientific and medical speech? I'm not sure that I know anymore. Will you?
Meanwhile, the people at www.cohealthcom.org remain the standard bearers. They're doing an outstanding job on limited resources. But they need more support from all of us. Stop reading this. Go there. And give it to them.

Harry Sweeney serves on the Advisory Board of the Drexel University School of Public Health, where he lectures in the Department of Health Management and Policy
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