Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Those Altruistic Drug Companies

If Michael Steele didn't exist, Barack Obama would have to invent him. The Chairman of the Republican National Committee is at it again, helpfully reminding us of the raison d'etre of the Republican Party, which has never met a corporate interest it believes has a responsibility to the American middle class.

This time, it's health care insurers. As this video (below) from Daily Kos indicates, Steele has declared

Everytime they find themselves up against a wall on some of the policy initiatives, whether it’s the stimulus, cap-and-trade, or now health care, that they find a boogey-man. In the health care debate, they went out — we switched from we’re now focusing on health care to ‘oh, we’ve got an insurance problem, and so now we can pick on the insurance companies.’

If Steele believes Barack Obama has decided to "pick on the insurance companies," he hasn't been paying attention- or more likely, chooses to pretend, for ideological or strategic reasons, otherwise. The Los Angeles Times reported on August 4 of a July meeting in the White House attended by Billy Tauzin, head of the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America,

several industry chief executives -- including those from Abbott Laboratories, Merck and Pfizer -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House aides (at which) Tauzin said he had not only received the White House pledge to forswear Medicare drug price bargaining, but also a separate promise not to pursue another proposal Obama supported during the campaign: importing cheaper drugs from Canada or Europe.

The Huffington Post obtained a copy of the memo, the validity of which the Administration is reluctant to confirm. Nevertheless, as Robert Reich has noted,

Big Pharma apparently has promised to cut future drug costs by $80 billion. But neither the industry nor the White House nor any congressional committee has announced exactly where the $80 billion in savings will show up nor how this portion of the deal will be enforced. In any event, you can bet that the bonanza Big Pharma will reap far exceeds $80 billion. Otherwise, why would it have agreed?

The prohibition in the prescription drug bill pased by the GOP Congress and happily signed by President George W. Bush on the right of the federla government to negotiate on behalf of Medicare lower drug prices has been a boon to the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of the elderly. Worse yet, as Reich explains, "a continuation will be an even larger bonanza, given all the Boomeers who will be enrolling in Medicare over the next decade."

Pretty good for an industry, many of whose leaders are taking down a salary of several million dollars a year (video way below). Yet, to Michael Steele, they're being "picked on." And to President Obama, they apparently represent an industry to be protected against the American people.

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