Tags: Prescription | Drug | Legislation | Flawed

Prescription Drug Legislation Flawed

Saturday, 21 February 2004 12:00 AM

The Democrats in the House and Senate need to get serious about amending the recently passed prescription drug Medicare legislation that was backed by the Republicans. The Democrats are missing the boat that could take them to victory in November.

The current legislation is seriously flawed. It does not allow Americans to buy and re-import into the United States American-made prescription drugs sold in Canada. American drug manufacturers sell their drugs to Canadian vendors at steep discounts that are passed along to consumers. Canadian consumers on average pay 50 percent less for prescription drugs than their American counterparts. The enacted prescription drug bill was sold to Republicans as costing $400 billion over a 10-year period.

The legislation also contains a provision prohibiting the U.S. government from using its buying power as purchaser of enormous quantities of prescription drugs under Medicare to bargain with the drug companies on behalf of seniors to get prices down. Clearly, this provision and the non-importation provision are gifts to the prescription drug industry. For everyone else, they are a disaster.

The Republicans, seeking to steal an election issue from the Democrats, steamrolled it through Congress using threats and intimidation. Nick Smith, a Republican member of the House, even charged that he was promised support for his son's congressional race in exchange for his vote for the bill. He declined. Rep. Smith has now withdrawn the charge; nevertheless, it is being investigated by the Justice Department.

How did this defective legislation get passed? The support of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) was instrumental in getting the bill passed. AARP was used by the Republican Party to get votes, particularly from Democrats, who were reluctant to vote for the bill.

The bill, deficient in providing adequate cost coverage, requires the Medicare beneficiary to assume a personal heavy cost before Medicare assumes the entire annual remaining cost. As a result of AARP's identification with the Republican bill, tens of thousands of AARP's members resigned from the organization.

I believe that AARP was right to support the Medicare bill in order to get the proverbial foot in the door. The concept of the government providing prescription drug benefits is now enshrined in law. Incidentally, every Democrat in the New York congressional delegation, including our two senators, voted against the bill.

The mayors and governors of several cities and states have announced that they will violate the law and arrange for prescription drug purchases in Canada for re-importation to the U.S. The law does allow for those purchases but only if the FDA administrator, Dr. Mark B. McClellan, who is the brother of Scott McClellan, the president's press secretary, certifies that they are safe, which he refuses to do.

I wrote to Dr. McClellan asking why he declines to provide the certification, and I also asked him how many instances of counterfeiting or tampering the FDA has uncovered over the years. Canada has its own version of our FDA. Were there health problems with prescription drugs manufactured in America, we surely would have been made aware of them by that agency and the Canadian and American press.

Dr. McClellan has not answered my letter of Dec. 10, 2003, nor my follow-up requests – unacceptable behavior on the part of a public servant.

There is no merit to the prescription drug companies' claim that without the higher prices paid in the U.S., adequate funds would not be available for research and development. The prescription drug industry spends far more on advertising its drugs than it does on research and development. Furthermore, research and development costs should be charged to all worldwide purchasers, not simply American consumers.

It is incumbent upon Democrats and AARP to force votes in both the House and Senate on eliminating the onerous provisions guaranteeing prescription drug companies' unconscionable profits. The Senate, nearly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, can be brought to a total halt by the Democratic minority at any time through a host of parliamentary maneuvers and the ultimate threat of a filibuster. It can be prevented from doing any business until a demand for a vote is acceded to by Dr. Bill Frist, majority leader of the Republican-controlled Senate.

Some Republicans who supported the original legislation might support amending the law now that they know the $400 billion price tag was understated, and the new cost certified for budget purposes is an additional $134 billion, or a total of $534 billion over a 10-year period.

If the Democratic Party and AARP are successful in amending the existing prescription drug legislation, and I believe they will be, America's senior citizens will not be the only beneficiaries. The Democratic Party will receive a significant boost in support that could help it win this year's presidential election and control of both houses of Congress. Furthermore, prescription drug reform could lead the way to creating a long-overdue national comprehensive health insurance program for all of America.

It remains to be seen whether Democrats are serious about effecting change in the Medicare legislation, or whether they simply want a campaign issue so they can attack Republicans. If they want a new law and if House members, they will support and sign the discharge petition. Otherwise, their rhetoric in denouncing the Bush bill will be shrill, but devoid of meaning.


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The Democrats in the House and Senate need to get serious about amending the recently passed prescription drug Medicare legislation that was backed by the Republicans.The Democrats are missing the boat that could take them to victory in November. The current legislation is...
Saturday, 21 February 2004 12:00 AM
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