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“A Very Sweet Deal”: Prescription Drug Price-Gouging Enabled By Congress

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

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Big Pharma, Medicare | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Legacy Worthy Of Contempt”: George W Bush, Still The Guy Who Taught America To Torture

ROSS DOUTHAT isn’t a big fan of George W. Bush, but he does think a lot of the liberal critique leveled at the time seems “misguided or absurd” in retrospect. Mostly on domestic policy issues, but on foreign and security issues as well:

The continuities between Bush and Obama on civil liberties, presidential power and the war on terror make the same point: In order to critique Bushism appropriately, you need to recognize that on many, many issues, his presidency was much more centrist and establishmentarian than it was radical or right-wing.

There may be some issues on which George W. Bush was “centrist and establishmentarian”, but his stances on civil liberties and the war on terror were not among them. The only reason they may appear so now is that the Bush administration and the Republican Party succeeded in shifting the political debate so far towards militarism and unchecked security-statism in the previous decade that it now feels normal. We’ve been right so long it looks like centre to us. It is hard to tell how much personal responsibility Mr Bush bears for many of the most egregious precedent-setting violations of human rights that took place during his tenure, since he was a relatively ill-informed and often disengaged chief executive who delegated an unusual level of power in these areas to his vice-president. But we were talking about the administration, not just the man. On civil liberties, it was the Bush administration that decided that America ought to torture people and imprison them without trial indefinitely (ie, possibly forever) in extra-territorial jails. On the war on terror, it was the Bush administration that decided that America ought to launch preemptive wars against other countries in defiance of international public opinion, based on a delusional belief in the irresistible glory and rightness of American power. I would call that radical and right-wing. I can think of some meaner words, too.

On the question of “presidential power”, Mr Douthat is right that most administrations tend to want more of it rather than less. Certainly Barack Obama has not been eager to ramp back his prerogatives. In other continuities, the Obama administration has presided over the expansion of drone-based targeted killing programmes that have killed thousands of civilians across the Middle East, has expanded domestic surveillance powers, and has used the same reprehensible personality-destruction techniques on Bradley Manning that the Bush administration used on José Padilla. All of which is lousy. But how sharp a shift was really possible? The Obama administration inherited a security apparatus swollen to a multiple of its previous size, full of people who had spent the previous eight years carrying out the Bush administration’s policies. Those people had a very strong interest in defending those policies, not least because a number of them were guilty of ordering or carrying out torture. Torture is a crime against humanity. America has signed treaties that oblige it to try its own officials when they commit crimes against humanity. And yet you can feel how far the Bush administration moved politics permanently to the right when you speak the words “officials who ordered people tortured should be tried for crimes against humanity”, and realize that you sound like a ranting far-left extremist.

Maybe Barack Obama could have reversed course more sharply on civil liberties and held Bush-era officials accountable for torture, if he had been willing to stage a partisan ideological battle on those grounds that would have left him unable to accomplish much else. I’m not convinced it would have achieved anything; Mr Obama has been trying to close Guantánamo since the day he took office, but has failed in the face of congressional opposition. Either way, it’s absurd to believe that America would have started torturing people or invading countries unprovoked if Barack Obama, Al Gore, Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush had been in the White House on September 11th, 2001. That is George W. Bush’s historical responsibility, and it’s what he should be remembered for—along with the financial crisis, the rich-skewed tax cuts that left us with a half-trillion-dollar structural deficit, the listless cronyism that hollowed out the SEC and FEMA, a couple of positive public-health initiatives marred by corporate giveaways (PEPFAR, Medicare Part D), and the decision to doom the world to global warming by opposing the Kyoto Protocol. On balance, a legacy worthy of contempt.

 

By: M. S., Democracy in America, Published in The Economist, April 26, 2013

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Official, The Tea Party Is Back”: Once Again, Fantasies Of A Pragmatic GOP Prove Illusory

Say what you will about Politico, but aside from the many bits of useful phenomenological data its vast minions gather each day, it serves as a sort of public utility in instantly and thoroughly expressing the shifting perspectives of the MSM. Today, having misinterpreted and buried the Tea Party Movement a thousand times, Politico (in this piece by Tarini Parti) now takes judicial notice of its return on Capitol Hill:

The Tea Party Caucus is back in action with a new strategy and a growing membership.

Roughly 20 House Republicans attended a closed-door meeting Thursday evening in the Rayburn House Office Building, along with staffers from nearly 40 congressional offices, including those of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul.

It comes as conservatives continue to flex their muscle, making life difficult for GOP leaders in the House on issues like Obamacare, and as the debate on immigration legislation heats up.

Conservative mainstays such as Reps. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) were among those at the meeting. A source said the entire GOP House delegation from South Carolina was there as well.

Mike Shields, chief of staff to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, spoke at the meeting – an indication that the GOP establishment is making an effort to work with the tea party lawmakers.

Also in attendance: Conservative radio talk show host Rusty Humphries and representatives from organizations including the Tea Party Express and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. TheTeaParty.net organized the meeting, which was closed to press.

The possibility that high attendance at the caucus meeting might reflect a continuing presence rather than a sudden resurgence was indirectly addressed by this quote from Louie Gohmert:

“I thought it was the energy we had when we first started things,” Gohmert told POLITICO after the meeting. “The Tea Party beliefs and movement never really went away. It was just that the caucus wasn’t really having meetings.”

True dat. You could make the case, in fact, that the relative quiescence of the Tea Party Caucus was attributable to its consolidation of power within the Republican “Establishment.” Now that strategic disagreements within the congressional GOP are re-emerging, it’s time to get loud and proud again. But the whole phenomenon shows how shallow all the talk about the GOP “rebranding” and “adjusting to new circumstances” really was–much less the fatuous chatter about “bipartisan breezes wafting through Congress.”

It’s entirely possible, not soon but in the foreseeable future, that the Republican Party and even the conservative movement can genuinely move beyond the “Spirit of 2010” and begin to act like a political party rather than a wrecking crew. But anyone who has paid genuine attention to the Tea Party Movement must understand that these are people who violently oppose the idea of “moving on” or “adjusting to circumstances.” The whole point of “constitutional conservatism” is the belief in an eternal, perhaps even divinely ordained, governing model that never, ever, goes out of season. Maybe they’ll lose influence in the GOP and the country as a whole, but they aren’t going away or changing. Their periodic rediscovery by the MSM when once again fantasies of a “pragmatic” GOP prove illusory is one of the maddening but abiding aspects of contemporary political journalism.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 26, 2013

April 28, 2013 Posted by | Media, Teaparty | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Morose Middle Class”: At Best, Treading Water And At Worst, Sinking

The Middle Class is in a funk, its view of the future growing dim as fear rolls in like a storm.

An Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll released Thursday found that while most Americans (56 percent) hold out hope that they‘ll be in a higher class at some point, even more Americans (59 percent) are worried about falling out of their current class over the next few years. In fact, more than eight in 10 Americans believe that more people have fallen out of the middle class than moved into it in the past few years.

The poll paints a picture of a group that is scared to death about its station in life.

By the way, 58 percent of respondents in the poll viewed themselves as either middle class (46 percent) or upper middle class (12 percent).

According to the poll, Americans see a middle class with less opportunity to get ahead, less job security and less disposable income than the middle class of previous generations.

Respondents were most likely (52 percent) to say that losing a job would put them at the greatest risk of falling out of their current class, followed by an unexpected illness or injury in the family.

Most of those polled believe that higher education is the key to staying in the middle class, but many worry about its prohibitive cost and inaccessibility.

And who did most of them say is responsible for making it worse for the middle class? Congress, chief executives of major corporations and big financial institutions.

Of those who blame politicians, there is some evidence that Republicans get more of the blame than Democrats. A CNN/ORC poll released last month found that 32 percent of respondents thought that Democrats favor the middle class compared with 27 percent who believed the same of Republicans. Sixty-eight percent of those polled believed that Republicans favor the wealthy, compared with 24 percent who believed that Democrats do.

This anxiety about a shrinking middle class is understandable.

A Pew Research Center study, “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class,” released in August, found that “since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some — but by no means all — of its characteristic faith in the future.”

According to the report, “Fully 85 percent of self-described middle-class adults say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago for middle-class people to maintain their standard of living.”

The report continued:

“Their downbeat take on their economic situation comes at the end of a decade in which, for the first time since the end of World War II, mean family incomes declined for Americans in all income tiers. But the middle-income tier — defined in this Pew Research analysis as all adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median — is the only one that also shrunk in size, a trend that has continued over the past four decades.”

It’s important to note that many of the people who describe themselves as middle class would not be placed under that rubric by most objective observers. For instance, the Pew study found that 35 percent of people making $30,000 and under and 46 percent of those making $100,000 and over self-identified as middle class. (Meantime, six percent of those making $30,000 and under self-identified as upper class, and six percent of those making $100,000 and over self-identified as lower class. Go figure.)

As Pew pointed out, over the last decade, “middle-tier median household income” fell and median net worth plummeted, and people in the middle class said it was becoming harder to maintain their lifestyles.

To add insult to injury, another Pew report, released this week, found that “during the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, the mean net worth of households in the upper 7 percent of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28 percent, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93 percent dropped by 4 percent.”

As The Washington Post reported in September after the release of a frightening Census report: “The vise on the middle class tightened last year, driving down its share of the income pie as the number of Americans in poverty leveled off and the most affluent households saw their portion grow.”

The wealthy have come surging back, riding record stock market highs, but many in the middle class are at best treading water and at worst sinking.

In his State of the Union speech in February, President Obama said that the “true engine of America’s economic growth” is “a rising, thriving middle class.”

It certainly looks as if that engine has stalled.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 27, 2013

April 28, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Middle Class | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Not Poor People”: A Lesson In Who Actually Matters To Washington

Last night, after just several days of complaints from flyers—who had to deal with airline delays—the Senate rushed to pass the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013, which give the Federal Aviation Administration the power to avoid sequestration by shifting money and avoiding furloughs for air traffic controllers. The House did the same today. Given the number of flights, and the time lost from delays, it’s a decent solution to a real problem.

It’s also incredibly frustrating.

The sequester has been a disaster. The indiscriminate cuts to discretionary spending have harmed kids in Head Start, workers on unemployment benefits, and families in Section 8 housing. It’s on track to remove tens of billions from the economy, both in spending cuts and in lost output, as people lose jobs and cut back on their consumption.

But none of this has moved Congress to act. Instead, Republicans continue to use the sequester as a political tool, attacking Obama for cutting spending they like, and touting it when it cuts spending they don’t.

That is, until the sequester begins to harm valuable constituents, i.e., businesspeople and other frequent flyers affected by the FAA furloughs. Then, Congress—and Republicans in particular—will rush to fix the damage. It doesn’t help that this comes just a day after lawmakers skipped a hearing on mass, long-term unemployment—one of the key problems facing the country.

Whenever pundits or politicians call for cuts to the social-safety net, it usually includes a pitch for “shared sacrifice.” The idea is appealing; if we have to make painful decisions, it’s only fair if everyone is affected. But the fact is that there is no shared sacrifice. As soon as the wealthy and connected begin to feel discomfort, Congress is there, ready to address their concerns.

If only the rest of us were so lucky.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, April 26, 2013

April 28, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Sequester | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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