DMI Blog

Elana Levin

Really Really Lowering the Cost of Meds. Not Just Pretending To

In an excellent post yesterday, "Businessweek Shows What Wall Street Dems Mean By the 'Kabuki Dance" David Sirota wrote:

Last week, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) told the New York Times that the Democratic Party must engage in a "kabuki dance" to make it look like they are pushing a progressive agenda, while not really challenging entrenched power. But what does that mean in practice? We can look to a new Businessweek story for clues.

The post goes on to explain how while President, Bill Clinton supported a bill that purported to rein in exorbitant pay packages for executives he was simultaneously maneuvering behind the scenes to make so many loopholes in the law that it wouldn't matter anyway.

That's a good illustration of what I fear could happen if the public isn't engaged in the debate when Congress decides what to do about the deadly unaffordability of prescription drugs. Speaker Pelosi has rightly put lowering the cost of Prescription Drugs near the top of her list of things she will do in the first 100 hours of the new Congress (she is so cool) so we know that Congress will have to decide on a policy for negotiating lower costs very soon. It is very encouraging and a sign of leadership that Speaker Pelosi wants direct government negotiations with drug companies to reduce prices in the face of massive industry resistance .

That's why I feel DMI's next Marketplace of Ideas event Making Prescription Drugs More Affordable with Senator Sharon Treat is so important. Contrary to what some TV talking heads might tell you, policy isn't supposed to be about appearances - policies that just look good on paper but don't work in the end of the day (can you say "Medicare Part D Donut Hole"). I want to learn more about the successes of Maine's Rx Plus program because an independent study has found the plan's "carrot and stick" approach towards lowering costs reduced prices further than Ohio's voluntary plan. The study also says that the legal concerns Big Pharma raised over Maine Rx Plus have been sufficiently resolved in the program's favor. Of course I'd also like to know if a program that would bring savings to an even bigger pool of people could be achieved and how universal healthcare could help affordability.

The starting point of this debate needs to be what will work best for the public- not what policymakers think companies will swallow before the debate has even begun. A Washington Post story reported that "According to those involved in the 2003 negotiations, even some Democratic bills to create a Medicare drug benefit included a ban on direct government negotiations." Speaker Pelosi won't let that mistake happen again. She promises to fight and repeal the provision in Medicare Part D that prohibits the government from negotiating price reductions with drug companies. Not everyone in Congress has Speaker Pelosi's Grade A record on middle class issues as you can tell by our scorecard.

But as Ian Welsh from the Agonist wrote to me "When 90% of the population thinks you should do something, how can any politician intend to stop it? This is how far [what David Sirota calls the] "money party" has sunk their teeth into your country - that some politicians won't even give 90% of the population what it wants if it displeases their paymasters." (he blogs about drug companies and Democrats here).

So I'll be there at the Harvard Club, 8am December 11th to blog what State Senator Treat, Chairman of the New York State Assembly Health Committee Richard Gottfried and Dr. Jon R. Cohen have to say. A newly empowered leader in Congress is going to argue for direct negotiations with drug companies. We need to know all we can and get the word out if we want to ensure good policy results from this historic moment. Speaker Pelosi's leadership could make that possible, so be hopeful and take notes.

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Elana Levin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 1:27 PM, Nov 29, 2006 in Government Accountability | Health Care | Medicaid | Medicare | Middle-class squeeze
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