Friday, November 28, 2003

The Seattle Times: Big Pharm Big Winner in Medicare Sweepstakes.

The Seattle Times put their finger on a number of important issues in today's editorial on the new Medicare bill:
With the closely held GOP legislation approaching 1,000 pages, it will take time to fully understand all that was included and what the cost will be.
Amen, brother. Ever read a session law? It's an interesting exercise. This is what got delivered to House members and Senators just before the Thanksgiving recess: (1) text of the legislation (678 pp.), (2) the joint explanatory statement of the Conferees (403 pp.), (3) a summary of the Medicare conference agreement, (4) a summary of the regulatory and contracting reform conference agreement, (5) a table of Congressional Budget Office estimates for major provisions of H.R. 1 and S. 1 (the competing versions of the Medicare reform bill), and (6) the CBO's 68-page analysis of both bills as of June 27 (i.e., before the conference committee started whacking at the bills to forge their compromise). It will take days, if not weeks, to track these changes back through existing provisions to make sense of the whole thing, and just as long, if not longer, to get a solid estimate of costs and savings from the bipartisan CBO.
Still, this much is known, as Washington Sen. Patty Murray put it, "The Senate has passed a bill that fundamentally changes the Medicare program while adding a meager 'drug benefit.' "

A bipartisan desire for a prescription drug benefit for the 40 million people on Medicare morphed into a legislative catch-all that tied enough disparate interests together to pass sweeping changes.

An initial impulse is to say that the bloated Medicare bill is better than nothing. That is not clear at all.
What does seem pretty clear, however, is that, "in the final analysis, U.S. pharmaceutical companies will be better protected than elderly Americans in the overhaul of Medicare passed by Congress." Consider:So how did Big Pharm come out? "Drug companies have a direct stake in being for expanded coverage, and against formularies, price caps and Canadian imports."

And how did Medicare beneficiaries and rural providers -- the ostensible targets of this reform package -- make out?The verdict?
Each piece could have been handled separately. A clean prescription bill was possible. So was more money for rural hospitals. But taken together, they provided political cover for a fundamental change in the 38-year-old government-run Medicare plan.

Democrats did not get the drug plan they wanted, and many conservative Republicans are simply appalled at the expense: "We are saddling future generations with enormous liabilities," said Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla.

Narrow approval in the House and reluctant passage in the Senate are tell-tale signs not of triumphant compromise, but deep misgivings about what was accomplished. Only the nation's drug companies are absolutely sure.
For its part, Big Pharm's trade association, PhRMA, posted an announcement on its president, Alan Holmer's web page that was emphatically jubilant about the historic victory for seniors and disabled persons," not to mention Big Pharm, eh, Brother Holmer? Amen.
posted by tommayo, 7:47 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter