Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much. But one thing they would agree on if they knew the facts is that because of the cozy relationship big drug companies have with our lawmakers in Washington, Americans pay far more for their medications than people anywhere else on the planet.
As a consequence, our health insurance premiums are much higher than they should be. And our Medicare program is costing both taxpayers and beneficiaries billions of dollars more than necessary.
Americans who are uninsured are at an even greater disadvantage: many of them have no choice but to put their health at risk because they can’t afford the medications their doctors prescribe for them.
Drug makers have so much influence in Washington that they’ve been able to kill numerous proposals over the years that would enable the U.S. government to regulate drug prices like most other countries do. Between 1988 and 2012, the pharmaceutical industry spent more on lobbying than any other special interest, forking over a total of $2.6 billion on lobbying activities, according to OpenSecrets.org. That’s far more than even banks and oil and gas companies spent.
That money helped them get a very sweet deal when members of Congress were drafting legislation that would eventually be the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. Drug makers were able to get their friends in Congress to insert language in the Part D legislation that prohibits the federal government from seeking the best prices from pharmaceutical companies.
According to a recent analysis by Health Care for America Now (HCAN), an advocacy group, the 11 largest drug companies reported $711.4 billion in profits over the 10 years ending in 2012, much of it coming from the Medicare program. They reaped $76.3 billion in profits in 2006 alone, 34 percent more than in 2005, the year before the Part D program went into effect.
“Americans pay significantly more than any other country for the exact same drugs,” said HCAN Executive Director Ethan Rome.
How much more do we pay than residents of other countries? Here are a few examples of what we pay on average for six brand name drugs compared to what residents of other countries pay, according to the International Federation of Health Plans:
– Celebrex (for pain) – U.S.: $162; Canada: $53
– Cymbalta (for depression and anxiety) – U.S: $176; France: $47
– Lipitor (for high cholesterol) – U.S.: $124; New Zealand: $6
– Nasonex (for nasal allergies) – U.S: $108; U.K.: $12
– Vytorin (for high cholesterol) – U.S: $123; Argentina: $31
– Nexium (for acid reflux) – U.S.: $123; Spain: $18
The Congressional Budget Office says that if Medicare could get the same bulk purchasing discounts on prescription drugs as state Medicaid programs already get, the federal government would save at least $137 billion over 10 years.
In his proposed budget for 2014, President Obama is asking Congress to require drug companies to sell their medications to Medicare at the best price they offer private insurance companies, which is what they are required to do for Medicaid.
On April 16, several members of Congress, led by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), introduced legislation to require drug companies to provide rebates to the federal government on drugs used by people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. One of the cosponsors was Independent Sen. Angus King, the former governor of Maine. The lawmakers noted that with the exception of Medicare Part D, all large purchasers of prescription drugs negotiate better prices. Their bill, they say, would correct excessive payments to drug companies, while saving taxpayers and the federal government billions of dollars.
As you can imagine, the drug companies don’t like what President Obama and the lawmakers are proposing. You can expect them to mount a multi-million dollar PR and lobbying campaign over the coming months to protect both their sweet deal with Medicare and their Wall Street-pleasing profits.
By: Wendell Potter, Guest Contributor, Politix, April 23, 2013
If Rep. Paul Ryan wants people to take his budget manifestos seriously, he should be honest about his ambition: not so much to make the federal government fiscally sustainable as to make it smaller.
You will recall that the Ryan Budget was a big Republican selling point in last year’s election. Most famously, Ryan proposed turning Medicare into a voucher program. He offered the usual GOP recipe of tax cuts — to be offset by closing certain loopholes, which he would not specify — along with drastic reductions in non-defense “discretionary” spending.
If the plan Ryan offered had been enacted, the federal budget would not come into balance until 2040. For some reason, Republicans forgot to mention this detail in their stump speeches and campaign ads.
Voters were supposed to believe that Ryan was an apostle of fiscal rectitude. But his real aim wasn’t to balance the budget. It was to starve the federal government of revenue. Big government, in his worldview, is inherently bad — never mind that we live in an awfully big country.
Ryan and Mitt Romney offered their vision, President Obama offered his, and Americans made their choice. Rather emphatically.
Now Ryan, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, is coming back with an ostensibly new and improved version of the framework that voters rejected in November. Judging by the preview he offered Sunday, the new plan is even less grounded in reality than was the old one.
Voters might not have focused on the fact that Ryan’s original plan wouldn’t have produced a balanced budget until today’s high school students reached middle age, but the true deficit hawks in the House Republican caucus certainly noticed. They demanded a budget that reached balance much sooner. Hence Ryan’s revised plan, which claims to accomplish this feat of equilibrium within a decade.
It will, in fact, do nothing of the sort, because it appears to depend on at least one ridiculous assumption and two glaring contradictions. That’s for starters; I’m confident we’ll see more absurdities when the full proposal is released soon.
Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Ryan said his plan assumes that the far-reaching reforms known as Obamacare will be repealed. Host Chris Wallace reacted with open disbelief: “That’s not going to happen.”
Indeed, to take Ryan seriously is to believe that legislation repealing the landmark Affordable Care Act would be approved by the Senate, with its Democratic majority, and signed by Obama. What are the odds? That’s a clown question, bro.
As he did in the campaign, Ryan attacked Obama’s health reforms for cutting about $700 billion from Medicare over a decade, not by slashing benefits but by reducing payments to providers. Ryan neglected to mention that his own budget — the one he convinced the party to run on in 2012 — would cut Medicare by the same amount. Actually, by a little more.
This was hypocrisy raised to high art. How could anyone who claimed to be so very worried about the crushing federal debt blithely renounce $700 billion in savings? Ryan suggested Sunday that once Obamacare is repealed, this money can be plowed back into Medicare. Which, as you recall, will never happen.
While Ryan’s new budget assumes that Obamacare goes away, it also assumes that the tax increase on high earners approved in the “fiscal cliff” deal remains in place. “That’s current law,” he said, as if Obamacare were not.
Ryan’s sudden respect for a tax increase that had to be — metaphorically — crammed down Republicans’ throats is easily explained. He needs the $600 billion in revenue it produces to make his new fantasyland budget appear to reach balance.
Ryan is likely to reprise — and even augment — the hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts he proposed last year for social programs. He indicated that he still believes Medicare should be voucherized, although he objects to the word and insists that what he advocates is “premium support.” And he asserted that Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor, is “reckless” — even as tea party-approved Republican governors such as Rick Scott of Florida announce their states’ participation.
From the evidence, Ryan cares less about deficits or tax rates than about finding some way to dramatically reduce the size of the federal government. He has every right to hold that view. But it’s hard to take him seriously as long as he refuses to come clean about his intentions.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 11, 2013
Did you know that on November 6, 2012, in conjunction with the national election, the United States also had a referendum on Obamacare that Republicans won? No, I didn’t, either, until Paul Ryan informed me of this, via this Think Progress report:
On Sunday morning, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) stopped by Fox News Sunday to preview his new budget, which will be released in full on Tuesday. As it had the past two years, this year’s version will call for massive cuts to social service programs, including food stamps, job training, Medicaid, and Medicare. Host Chris Wallace challenged Ryan on the viability of his plan, pointing out that he wants to repeal and replace Obamacare, and, “that’s not going to happen.”
Still, Ryan insisted that he and then-running mate Mitt Romney won the election on this issue because they “won the senior vote.”
Now I think we all understand that Ryan is using some shorthand here: many Democrats hoped, and Republicans feared, that Ryan’s budget, by proposing to change Medicare from an entitlement to publicly-provided health insurance into a premium-support system, would make his party vulnerable to losses it could not manage in its old-white-folks electoral base. Instead, by a variety of means (including over two years of insanely mendacious “death-panel” demagoguery about the impact of Obamacare on Medicare, and the systematic “grandfathering” of seniors from Ryan’s proposed Medicare changes), the GOP ticket managed to promote a health care message that nicely meshed with its overall pitch to old white folks that those people along with their atheist hippie allies were threatening to take away everything good virtuous retirees had worked so hard to secure for themselves, including Medicare (which they tend to regard as an earned benefit as opposed to Obamacare’s “welfare”).
I suppose it’s understandable that Ryan would view any success in selling big changes in Medicare to old folks would represent a political ten-strike, even if he’s now having to incorporate into his budget the same Medicare savings he implicitly attacked during the campaign as a token of Obamacare’s ultimate goal of sending seniors off to euthanasia camps. But it’s still bizarre that he’s touting an incumbent president’s re-election victory as a repudiation of his most important legislative accomplishment. It’s enough to give Dick Morris hope he can come back from ridicule and disgrace and claim he was right all along in predicting a big Romney-Ryan win.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 11, 2013