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Drug companies robbing everybody to pay Paul

Submitted by on Monday, 16 November 2009 No Comment

It took me a while, but I finally figured out where I’d previously seen the scam the drug companies are trying to pull off on health care reform.

It was about this time last year, at a discount store that had gone bankrupt. I stopped in hoping to pick up some bargains and instead found prices higher than you’d pay at a decent sale at the same store on an average weekend.

I was shocked only because I’d been assuming that the store was trying to get rid of merchandise. Wrong. The company holding the bankruptcy sale was trying to eek out every penny it could, which meant higher prices.

Which is why I wasn’t shocked at all when the AARP released a study this week showing that prices for brand-name drugs Medicare patients most often use have risen 9 percent for over the past year – at the same time, general inflation has dropped 1.3 percent.

Generics, on the other hand, have fallen by a dramatic 8.7 percent, but that’s if the drug company hasn’t cut a deal to stop the generic. Such agreements allegedly have been illegal since 1984, though the Bush Justice Department repeatedly refused to act when the Federal Trade Commission wanted it to intervene.

The true beauty of this scam, though, is that the drug companies are at the same time pretending they’re eager to help move health-care reform along, even offering to shave the nation’s drug costs $8 billion a year just to show that they’re swell people who are willing to sacrifice.

Except the savings would go to older Americans and the government via rebates. What about everyone else?

Not that older Americans or the government is going to save much either unless prices are rolled back a couple of  years, to before the drug companies started jacking up costs when they realized people were serious about health-care reform and when they feared lost sales as the recession forced people to skimp on medications. What better way to preserve profits than to charge more to those who can still afford it?

That might be an ethically palatable philosophy when it comes to discount clothing. It’s sleazy and cynical, though, when the product in question is something people need to survive.

Curiously, industry flacks blasted the AARP study as “politically motivated” even though they didn’t dispute similar findings from Credit Suisse, The New York Times reported. I guess it’s bad form to blast the reports your stockholders read.

But, then, it’s also bad form for Congress to keep pretending the drug companies’  offer is manna from heaven when it’s nothing of the sort. It’s the bare minimum they think they can get away with. It’s money they started confiscating from sick people a year ago in preparation for this very moment.

Just ask people like Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Charles Schumer, whose amendments to make the industry cough up more were rejected by colleagues beholden to drug companies and insurers.

Rockefeller, at least, swears he’s not going to back down on the public option. Good for him. He might not get all of what he wants, but he’ll at least get drug companies back to the table, perhaps with a serious offer this time.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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