Why I'm Not Impressed with the Seniors' Drug Agreement

So as part of the health care reform I expect Congress to enact this year, Medicare beneficiaries whose spending falls within this gap will now receive a discount on prescription drugs of at least 50 percent from the negotiated price their plan pays.  It’s a reform that will make prescription drugs more affordable for millions of seniors, and restore a measure of fairness to Medicare Part D.    It’s a reflection of the importance of this single step for America’s seniors that it has earned the support of AARP, which has been fighting for years to address this anomaly in the system on behalf of older Americans.  AARP is committed, as I am, to achieving health care reform by the end of this year.  And I’m committed to continuing to work with AARP to ensure that any reforms we pursue are carried out in a way that protects America’s seniors, who know as well as anyone what’s wrong with our health care system and why it’s badly in need of reform.
Our goal — our imperative — is to reduce the punishing inflation in health care costs while improving patient care.  And to do that we’re going to have to work together to root out waste and inefficiencies that may pad the bottom line of the insurance industry, but add nothing to the health of our nation.   To that end, the pharmaceutical industry has committed to reduce its draw on the health care system by $80 billion over the next 10 years as part of overall health care reform.

The White House – Blog Post – A Significant Breakthrough to Assist Our Seniors.

I am highly disappointed to read the provisions of this portion of the health care “reform” that was announced today.

What President Obama understands as outlined in several things he’s written, most notably “The Audacity of Hope”, is that true drug reform in this country is only going to come through stringent regulations placed on the pharmaceutical companies. While I understand that these companies have a wealth of power because they have a wealth of income, it’s really time to take a stand. It’s time for a politician to stand up against Pfizer, Bristol Myers, Procter & Gamble, Amgen and all of their counterparts. It’s time for someone to have the courage to say that these band-aid fixes simply aren’t enough.

The drug companies get off so easy with this agreement they have made.

First, a majority of seniors don’t even use Medicare D. For a variety of reasons, Medicare D has just not caught on. They either don’t understand it, have alternate coverage or can’t afford it. So, the total percentage of the American population who are benefiting from this agreement is probably minuscule.

Second, drugs that are most popular with seniors are also popular with other age groups. So, the chances are that these pharmaceutical companies are going to make plenty of money off the same drugs without even considering those prescriptions filled by seniors. Meanwhile, they get to look like the good guys while shipping off these 50% checks to Medicare. So, now they have a few good years where they get to say “remember when we gave you 50%??” Heck, it might last for the whole Obama administration. Bad, bad move, Mr. President.

Third, as a person who lived with an elderly uncle, delivered prescriptions to my great-grandmother, and has grandparents who all had various prescriptions to fill, I can tell you for certain that a half price discount is not nearly enough to make the extremely over-inflated drugs affordable. In the case of my grandparents, you can’t tell me that reducing their monthly prescription needs from $900 to $450 is going to help. Guess what? They don’t have the $450 either.

We are again at the root of many of the major problems in this country: corporate greed.

Health care and medicine are not the places to make a profit. Not at the cost of someone’s life. Next time you pick up a prescription, note the full price. The last prescription, I picked up for myself had a sticker price of $472. I paid $32, but I will tell you without a shadow of a doubt that even working full time, there’s no way I would have been able to pay half price for those antibiotics.

The true, true reform is going to lie in standing up to these pharmaceutical companies, providing public financing and requiring them to sell drugs AT-COST to the American people. So all people, not just seniors, can benefit from a true reform agreement that does not penalize people for illness, genetic defects, terminal illness, or accidents.

Until that moment, I will not be impressed. I will not rally behind this “reform.” And, I will not say this is progress.

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