Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Ethics: Ethics Panel Finds Conflict With Senator's Job as Physician

The Senate ethics committee has ruled that Sen. Tom Coburn must close his obstetrics practice.

The ethics committee has ruled that his private practice constitutes a potential conflict of interest with his work in Washington, and it has given him until Sept. 30 to close his office in Muskogee, Okla
For nearly two decades, Senate rules have barred members from holding outside professional jobs, such as those as lawyers, real estate agents and physicians, for fear that such services -- and compensation for those services -- might conflict with their role as policymakers.
OK, so this issue seems to have stupidity on both sides. What kind of conflict of interest is he going to have? A bias towards protecting pregnant women? Maybe if all of his patients worked for the defense industry or something I'd be worried, but he's an obstetrician. And after the recent Schiavo fiasco I think Congress could use a few more doctors (or at least better ones they have now). And how old and honored is this law barring him? A hundred years? Nope, less than 2 decades. Yeah, because in this country anything 20 years old is practically pre-historic.

On the other side of the issue I can easily see lawyers in congress making the same claim and then it's s snow ball effect. The easiest thing to do is just to start practicing pro-bono since it's the income that's not allowed, then again, he's a conservative Republican so I don't see that happening anytime soon. Any other opinions?


Garrett said...

Isn't it a bit stupid to run for a Senate seat knowing that Senate rules bar outside professions? It's not like he didn't know.

I think the rule seems like a reasonable one, in that an elected Senator is paid a salary by the citizens of the United States, and thus should not have other professional ties. Maybe it's not reasonable to ask zillionaires to limit their earning potential to a few hundred thousand, but that seems to make sense to me.

However, if the premise of that rule is in fact based on the idea that practicing as a physician leads to a conflict of interest, well, yes, that's near-absurd. So if I agree with the rule, it is for reasons that seem to have nothing to do with its intended purpose.

Pepper said...

I'm wondering if the rule doesn't exist as a way to prevent bribes from being funneled to lawmakers. If senators have outside professions where they are allowed to earn an unlimited amount of money, what's to stop a lobbyist *coughAbramoffhack* from paying you for professional services in exchange for some friendly legislation?

Granted, I feel like a physician's practice is a fairly benign thing. I'm not saying abuse would happen in this case. However, it would be harder to make a law barring outside income except for money made from professions x,y, and z.

But I'm just guessing here.

michael said...

i feel as though having one less political asshole in medicine is a good thing. let's face it, anyone in politics is by definition a power hungry asshole.

Steve said...

Pepper's comment is well taken, although I would hope that people would not take bribes through their role as a doctor. Dr. Haftel wouldn't think that was very professional.

On the other hand, we do need more doctors in elected positions making our laws. Some of the health care laws that Congress make are often made by health *policy* experts, not people who have actually practiced medicine. If you think we need more physicians elected into Congress, then we also have to realize that doctors have quite a bit more to keep up on in terms of staying licensed, especially those who do procedures like OB/GYNs. Sure, a lawyer can take 6-12 years off from being a lawyer, and probably go back to being a lawyer after his or her Senate/House career with some new laws (which they are probably privy to being the lawmakers). If a doctor is not allowed to practice for a long time, will they ever be able to get their practice back? I'm not sure - maybe it is easy to get recertified/boarded (whatever the hell you do to stay a doctor) after taking an extended leave from your practice. I'm just saying that these rules could deter doctors from becoming politicians, because they may not be able to return to their profession after they have served their country.

Ken said...

The law is a reasonable one. When you become a senator, that becomes your job. If you don't like the idea of that then you should not seek election. You believe that more doctors should be making our laws. I, however, do not believe that we should allow certain types of professions to slip by the rules in place in order to change the makeup to something that you find more suitable. If you start letting doctors slip by because of a supposed difficulty in recertification, then where does it stop? I'm sure there are a lot of other jobs that its not easy to just pick up and leave and go back to years later.

michael said...

well most politicians are lawyers. fortunately for them they get to practice being lying sons of bitches in both jobs. arnold still works out and talks funny so he's covered. would you want frist as your ob/gyn? thank you and goodnight.