Thursday, January 19, 2006

Medicare Drug Plan Looks Like a Big Scam


Zwelling-Aamot is a private internist who accepts a limited number of patients but places herself at their beck and call. She and her staff have spent months helping her patients navigate the new benefit, a process that requires at least an hour and a half of research per patient (time for which she's not compensated by Medicare). Like many other health professionals who have become familiar with this program, she has come to see it not as a boon for elderly consumers, but as a scandal.

"As a patient, you are totally hoodwinked by this system," she told me. "It's not just an economic tragedy; it's a moral tragedy."

The Medicare drug benefit is shaping up as the single most cynical scam perpetrated by the Bush administration on American consumers. Designed to maximize profits for drug makers and health insurers, the program was launched so ineptly Jan. 1 that hundreds of thousands of patients have been prevented by computer glitches from filling their prescriptions. California and 25 other states have had to step in temporarily to pay for improperly rejected prescription claims.

It's worth remembering that the prescription drug program was born in an act of fraud. The Bush administration sold it to Congress in 2003 by estimating its cost at less than $400 billion over 10 years. Scarcely a month after its enactment, the White House issued a new estimate: $535 billion. That figure might well have killed the bill, which had passed the House by a razor-thin margin even with the lower price tag.

As written, the legislation complied with a drug industry demand that Medicare be prohibited from negotiating with manufacturers for lower drug prices. Among those helping the industry make its stand was Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana), whose committee on energy and commerce oversaw Medicare. In an odoriferous development, Tauzin soon quit Congress to become president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America — Big Pharma's Washington lobbying group.

Keep in mind whose money the Republicans are swindling us out of - ours. They're not exactly doing our seniors any favors, either. They will never, repeat, never, pass any meaningful health care bills.

The time for health care for profit has passed. The medical industry knows it, too, but they are in business to make money. Actually helping people is pretty far down on the list. In order to keep them $100-dollar bills rolling in from their dope business, they have purchased a fine band of legislative accomplices to keep the gravy train on the rails for as long as they can.

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