I missed this last week but Robert Reich didn't. The Obama Admin has just promised to continue the abortion called Medicare Part D - a Bush program that has proven to be a bonanza for greedy drug makers and a nightmare for seniors who need those drugs - in exchange for their active support on his healthcare reform package.
Last week, after being reported in the Los Angeles Times, the White House confirmed it has promised Big Pharma that any healthcare legislation will bar the government from using its huge purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices. That's basically the same deal George W. Bush struck in getting the Medicare drug benefit, and it's proven a bonanza for the drug industry. A continuation will be an even larger bonanza, given all the boomers who will be enrolling in Medicare over the next decade. And it will be a gold mine if the deal extends to Medicaid, which will be expanded under most versions of the healthcare bills now emerging from Congress, and to any public option that might be included. (We don't know how far the deal extends beyond Medicare because its details haven't been made public.)
Let me remind you: Any bonanza for the drug industry means higher healthcare costs for the rest of us, which is one reason why critics of the emerging healthcare plans, including the Congressional Budget Office, are so worried about their failure to adequately stem future healthcare costs. To be sure, as part of its deal with the White House, Big Pharma apparently has promised to cut future drug costs by $80 billion. But neither the industry nor the White House nor any congressional committee has announced exactly where the $80 billion in savings will show up nor how this portion of the deal will be enforced. In any event, you can bet that the bonanza Big Pharma will reap far exceeds $80 billion. Otherwise, why would it have agreed?
In return, Big Pharma isn't just supporting universal healthcare. It's also spending lots of money on TV and radio advertising in support. Sunday's New York Times reports that Big Pharma has budgeted $150 million for TV ads promoting universal health insurance, starting this August (that's more money than John McCain spent on TV advertising in last year's presidential campaign), after having already spent a bundle through advocacy groups like Healthy Economies Now and Families USA.
It's a lousy trade for more reasons than I have the space to explain here, not the least of which is that big drug companies have already reaped $Billions$ from Part D and now stand to reap many $Billions$ more, so $150Mil is, like, a drop in the bucket. It's like promising to replace your neighbor's broken window - the one you just winged a rock through - but only if he'll buy you a Ferrari.
But it isn't so much that this is yet another lousy deal made by Democrats where massive goodies go to corporate sleezebags in return for almost nothing so much as that it is a prime example of business-as-usual in a fascist state: extortion, blackmail, and self-serving lies.
But I also care about democracy, and the deal between Big Pharma and the White House frankly worries me. It's bad enough when industry lobbyists extract concessions from members of Congress, which happens all the time. But when an industry gets secret concessions out of the White House in return for a promise to lend the industry's support to a key piece of legislation, we're in big trouble. That's called extortion: An industry is using its capacity to threaten or prevent legislation as a means of altering that legislation for its own benefit. And it's doing so at the highest reaches of our government, in the office of the president.
When the industry support comes with an industry-sponsored ad campaign in favor of that legislation, the threat to democracy is even greater. Citizens end up paying for advertisements designed to persuade them that the legislation is in their interest. In this case, those payments come in the form of drug prices that will be higher than otherwise, stretching years into the future.
And that's just the t of the i. Avedon Carol links to a long article by Kip Sullivan on the Physicians for a National Health Program blog in which he demonstrates conclusively that the "not politically feasible" meme has been around for almost 20 years and is used almost exclusively by Democrats to excuse their refusal to consider single-payer or any other healthcare reform that doean't make private health insurance corpo's even richer. It's something you should probably read with your blood pressure medication handy.
I first heard the “political feasibility” argument from members of a Minnesota health care reform commission in the spring and summer of 1990 when the coalition for which I was working, the Health Care Campaign of Minnesota, started visiting commission members to drum up support for single-payer legislation. I remember very clearly hearing the political feasibility argument on a hot summer day in 1990 in the office of Senator Linda Berglin, a commission member who also chaired the Senate health committee. Berglin, who was and still is from the safest Democratic-Farmer-Labor district in Minnesota, said she wouldn’t support single-payer because “we can’t beat the insurance industry” (or words almost exactly like those). A year later she was claiming that legislation that relied on HMOs to contain cost would have a much greater chance of passing in Minnesota and that’s what she was going to focus on.
Over the years 1992 through 1994, Minnesota’s legislature did in fact pass a series of bills (collectively referred to as “MinnesotaCare”) that were supposed to achieve substantial cost containment by encouraging faster enrollment in HMOs, and thus establish universal health insurance by July 1, 1997. Of course, it all fell apart, beginning in 1995. Minnesota is no closer to universal health insurance today than it was in 1990 when I was first advised by my betters about how politically infeasible single-payer is and how politically feasible the HMO approach would be.
The result of this wall-to-wall political protection is just what you might expect: a system that is totally out of control. Big Pharma in particular is acting like the Mafia, and extorting the US govt in exchange for a pittance is only the beginning. Mark links to a techdirt report on Big Pharma's abuse of patent law to interdict international drug shipments.
Thus, if a legal Indian generic drug maker has a shipment of those drugs to Peru, where the same drugs are also perfectly legal and not blocked by patent law -- those drugs might still get seized because en route to Peru, they may pass through some European countries, where Big Pharma has used its lobbying clout to get customs officials to search for and confiscate any such medicine, claiming they are violating patents in the EU. Because of this, the Indian firms need to spend a lot more money and ship via other means.
I'm sorry to see Europe following our lead in bending over for Big Pharma but I suppose it was bound to happen with the Obama Admin and the Harry Reid Democrats allowing them to invade other countries without consequences. Wouldn't surprise me if BP was using its cozy relationship with US leaders to intimidate EU Customs.
It's bad enough when ordinary corporations that don't have our lives in their hands act like greedy pricks. When health insurance corpo's do it, they kill people for profit. And our Democrats just made it easier for them to do that.
With an industry this criminal, there can't be any compromise with our healthcare. They've proved in both Minnesota and Mass that if they are any part of it they will pervert it beyond redemption in the name of profit. Any "public option" other than single-payer can't work as long as they're involved. Period.