Fighting The Pharma Goliath
April 05, 2007
Bill Scher blogs for the Campaign For America's Future. He also founded the blog Liberal Oasis.
If you watch a lot of CNN or MSNBC, you’ve probably seen the pharmaceutical lobby’s ads warning about “changes” to Medicare prescription drug program, because the program is “working.” (Then again, you might have heard a few notes of the off-the-shelf Muzak-folk music not good enough to be used in ads for Nexium or Lipitor, and tuned the ads out.)
Nevertheless, these ads are part of a massive lobbying campaign to kill legislation empowering Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices, repealing the current prohibition. Such a bill has already passed the House, and the Senate is expected to take up the issue later this month. This past Sunday, The Center for Public Integrity found that Big Pharma has flooded Washington with $155 million and an “army” of lobbyists more than 1,000 strong.
Part of the lobbying campaign is to give the impression that huge numbers of people are satisfied with the status quo, despite the fact that 85 percent of the country supports having Medicare negotiate. (The TV ad currently airing includes flat lies about the stance of one newspaper’s editorial board.)
The other part is a wonky misinformation campaign to claim private companies are already negotiating and lowering prices, and Medicare can’t do as good a job. The campaign has been aided by the White House and abetted by parts of the media, particularly The Washington Post. But the White House won’t back up its claims. When asked by a House committee for the supporting data, Bush’s Medicare officials refused to release it.
And on Wednesday, a new report from Institute for America’s Future put to rest any notion that Medicare can’t reap significant savings, finding that: “Allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices would bring around $30 billion in savings that can help American seniors and taxpayers.”
That’s $30 billion each year, by the way. That is not chump change.
At a press conference announcing the report, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., called out the glaring contradiction in Big Pharma’s arguments. The pharmaceutical companies insist that negotiating by Medicare wouldn’t affect prices, yet also complain it would hurt research and development (a.k.a. cut into their enormous profits). Both can’t be true. Noting the ferocity and expense of Big Pharma’s lobbying campaign, Stabenow said, “Their behavior does not fit the rhetoric."
Yet it is possible that a common sense position held by 85 percent of the public may become victim to a warped debate, because of that disingenuous rhetoric. We in the grassroots must do all we can to make sure the facts don’t get trampled by the lobbyist army.