Unbelievable, Almost

Democrat Tammy Baldwin has an 84% chance of beating former Governor Tommy Thompson in the race for Wisconsin’s Senate seat, according to the incomparable Nate Silver.  A particularly devastating ad she is now running is this one:

That ad not only hurts the former governor, who was once very popular in Wisconsin, but it shows how Republicans in general can’t be trusted to reform Medicare and Social Security. If only Democrats would make this larger point against Republicans as concisely and forcefully as Baldwin’s campaign has made it against Thompson.

During last week’s vice-presidential debate, there was only a brief mention of the issue of Medicare not being able to use its clout to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. In the middle of Paul Ryan’s defense of his indefensible scheme to voucherize Medicare, Biden brought it up:

BIDEN: Martha, if we just did one thing, if we just — if they just allowed Medicare to bargain for the cost of drugs like Medicaid can, that would save $156 billion right off the bat.

RYAN: And it would deny seniors choices.

Deny seniors choices? You mean like whether to buy drugs at a lower cost?

It is a fact that there are some 47 million Medicare beneficiaries and almost 28 million enrolled in its prescription drug plan, Part D (most other Medicare beneficiaries also have drug coverage, but receive it through TRICARE, FEHB, and the VA, or are active workers with other insurance).

It is almost unbelievable that Medicare is prohibited by law from negotiating on behalf of its beneficiaries. One study found that*,

For each of the top 20 drugs prescribed to seniors, the lowest price charged by any of the top Part D insurers is higher than the lowest price secured by the VA.

Among those top 20 drugs, the median difference between the lowest Part D plan price and the lowest VA price is 58 percent.

That’s money coming out of the pockets of seniors and taxpayers and going into drug company coffers. I say this situation is “almost” unbelievable because, after all, we are talking here about Republicans. You can go to OpenSecrets.org and look at political contributions by the drug industry for the year 2002, just one year before Republicans passed their pharmaceutical-friendly Part D program. You will see there the following:

That pretty much tells us why it is that Medicare is prohibited by law from using its bargaining power on behalf of its beneficiaries and taxpayers, and it tells us why Tammy Baldwin may just upset the favored former governor who helped make it possible .

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*Also from the study:

The price differential between the lowest VA-negotiated price and the lowest price available from a part D private plan is often substantial (table ). For example:

For Zocor (20 mg), a lipid-lowering agent, the lowest VA price for a year’s treatment is $127.44, while the lowest Part D plan price is $1,485.96—a difference of $1,358.52, or 1,066 percent.

For Protonix (40 mg), a gastrointestinal agent, the lowest VA price for a year’s treatment is $214.52, while the lowest Part D plan price is $1,148.40—a difference of $933.88, or 435 percent.

For Fosamax (70 mg), an osteoporosis treatment, the lowest VA price for a year’s treatment is $250.32, while the lowest Part D plan price is $763.56—a difference of 513.24, or 205 percent.

For Toprol XL (100 mg), a beta blocker, the lowest VA price for a year’s treatment is $250.06, while the lowest Part D plan price is $395.52—a difference of $145.46 or 58 percent.

For Celebrex (200 mg), an anti-inflammatory, the lowest VA price for a year’s treatment is $632.09, while the lowest Part D plan price is $946.44—a difference of $314.35, or 50 percent.

2 Comments

  1. The issue of the control of Big Pharma controlling the cost of drugs goes to the heart of what’s wrong with healthcare in America. Life-saving drugs should not be the source of vast wealth by companies who blatantly manipulate the patent system, but that’s the way our system works. Manipulation of essential products by monopolies is not capitalism, it is exploitation. Let’s hope Tammy Baldwin can be elected and make some changes.

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  2. Right now the latest polling shows her behind by one point. And Obama is up by only a point in Wisconsin, after having a substantial lead. So depressing. Of course those polls were conducted before the second debate so maybe there is some good news coming.

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