Wednesday, July 18, 2007

U.S. Health Care Predator - Big Pharma

The legal and illegal drug industries have one thing in common - big profits. In America, if Big Pharma and its sidekick, federal politicians, have their way that gravy train is just going to keep on rolling.

The Christian Science Monitor has published a scathing review of the Bush regime's Medicare plan, supposed to help elderly Americans afford their prescriptions but actually helping out America's pharmaceutical companies even more:

The White House and Congress claimed the private structure of the program would lead to lower drug prices. In fact, since the program began last year, the opposite has happened, thanks to the lobbying wizards of K Street. A fragmented band of more than 1,400 Part D insurance plans has had little negotiating power with the drug companies. Nor do those plans have much reason to bargain: Part D subsidizes patients on extended and expensive medication regimes at 80 percent.

Most remarkably the bill that Congress pushed through in 2003 didn't let the government negotiate drug prices. Why? Because the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) got no authority to define the "formulary" list of drugs for which Medicare will pay. Absent a credible threat to drop from that list any overpriced drugs that have branded alternatives – which the vast majority has – the government lost its negotiating stick.

Surprise! No price competition. So drug companies were able to raise rates for brand-name medications (that have comparable alternatives, but for which there are no generics) at twice the rate of inflation in the first six months of the program. And together, the five largest drug firms enjoyed a 45 percent increase in profits over the prior year.

This year, prices under Medicare private insurance plans for 10 of the most prescribed brand-name drugs (that have comparable alternatives) shot up an average of 6.8 percent in just four months.

When the bill was being debated, taxpayers were told the program would cost $400 billion. Today, realistic estimates put the figure at more than $1 trillion. The big drug companies, of course, love this. All those multiyear investments in lobbying have paid off – allowing them to use your tax dollars to boost their earnings.
So, let's see what we've got here. A programme that's touted as helping needy Americans that actually helps out American corporations already awash in cash. Gee that sounds like Bush/Cheney, doesn't it?

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