Monday, May 15, 2006

"Whatever Pharma wants, Pharma gets"

It's May 15, which means that if you're a senior citizen, this is your last day to sign up for the new Medicare part D drug "benefit" program without having to pay a 1% per month penalty. This new benefit, that Bush has been touting and promoting for about a year as a shining accomplishment of his administration has been widely criticized as too generous to the drug companies, far too complicated to understand for enrollees and that it doesn't provide enough coverage for certain lower income seniors. To picture what signing up for this part D coverage is like, imagine having to research and select a plan from 30 to 45 different choices from 8 to 12 different providers, each with slightly different rules and drugs that they will and won't cover. On top of this, depending on the income level of the enrollee and the cost and coverage of their current prescription plan, they have to make some rather complicated calculations simply to determine if their out of pocket costs would go up or down if they sign up for the new benefit. As a side note, ironically, many of the large pharmaceutical companies are reducing or eliminating their own independent low income drug assistance programs, citing their participation in the new part D program.

When the new plan was still being debated in Congress, many Democrats were up in arms over the fact that the proposal didn't use a 'single payer' system. In other words, the proposal refuses to use the huge buying power of the federal government to 'buy in bulk' and lower the cost of the program both to the participants and to tax payers as a whole. Michigan, Vermont and South Carolina participate in a buying cooperative and have been able to reduce their drug expense buy 25-50%. The fact that the new part D coverage doesn't do this is simply another example of this administration and the Republican Congress enacting legislation that is basically written by the industries that the legislation involves. This new plan is clearly a benefit for the large pharmaceutical companies. The "Healthy Forests" initiative, The Energy Policy act of 2005 and the "Clear Skies" act of 2003 are other examples. Famously, the indentities of the oil industry executives who helped Dick Cheney craft the legislation - the "Energy Task Force" - are still not known. This is despite a suit that was brought to reveal the names and meeting transcripts, which went all the way to the Supreme Court before being lost.

So after today, enrollees are penalized for late enrollment. The fact is, we were all penalized the moment this industry subsidy disguised as actual legislation was passed.

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