Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Drug Industry, Again

One of the bloggers at The New York Times, Judith Warner, writes that one Louise Claire Clark was a supporter of national health care while living in Australia in the 1980s. Living in the U.S.A. in the early 1990s as a single mother, she was eager to see health care reform and campaigned for Bill Clinton for president. She needed work and auditioned for the job of "Louise" in a commercial directed by political consultant Ben Goddard, who told Clark he was a Democrat and

the insurance lobby’s goal was merely to “open communications with the White House, to bring everyone in,” she recalls.

“He said, ‘It’s just one ad, and everybody knows there’s going to be health reform.”

She says that she was "very upset" when health care reform was eviscerated in 1993. Then in 1997 she married Goddard, a highly successful political consultant who, Jeffrey Birnbaum noted in 2004

created the first political advertising in the former Soviet Union to preserve Boris Yeltsin's free-market reforms. In the United States, he's worked for politicians including President Jimmy Carter, Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), former interior secretary Bruce Babbitt and Jesse Jackson.

And whose "clients are a Who's Who ofcorporate America- including life insurers and utility giants."

Fast forward sixteen years from the failure of President Clinton's health reform and 12 years since Clark's marriage. We now have the pharmaceutical industry willing to spend up to $150 million advocating generic health care reform in ads such as this:

As vanilla as this spot is, it would still be difficulut to understand why the health insurance industry, which dominates a health care system which desperately needs an overhaul, would be supporting any deviation from the status quo. Except, as Robert Reich explained on his blog Tuesday

Last week, after being reported in the Los Angeles Times, the White House confirmed it has promised Big Pharma that any healthcare legislation will bar the government from using its huge purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices. That's basically the same deal George W. Bush struck in getting the Medicare drug benefit, and it's proven a bonanza for the drug industry. A continuation will be an even larger bonanza, given all the Boomers who will be enrolling in Medicare over the next decade. And it will be a gold mine if the deal extends to Medicaid, which will be expanded under most versions of the healthcare bills now emerging from Congress, and to any public option that might be included. (We don't know how far the deal extends beyond Medicare because its details haven't been made public.)

So health "reform" may be to the industry's liking, especially if final legislation includes a mandate with no public option. As Daniel DeGroot details in his post at openleft.com, conservatives have attacked virtually everything proposed in reform legislation, and much of what hasn't been proposed but only imagined. Except: there has been a stunning (near) silence about mandates. That's hardly surprising, given that a mandate for health insurance would increase demand for care- which then would be met by a health insurance industry only too happy to increase its rates in the face of greater demand, and no public option to increase supply.

Some things, and people, have changed in the sixteen years since the last effort to provide a health care system befitting a great country. There is now Barack Obama instead of Bill Clinton and Billy Tauzin heading up Big Pharma instead of doing its bidding in Congress. But there still are Louise Clark, Ben Goddard, and an insatiable greed in the pharmaceutical industry.

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