There is a drug war going on behind the scenes in this country, and it has nothing to do with illegal narcotics. It is a war in Washington that Big Pharma has waged to protect inflated prescription drug prices by political connections and money.
A good example of the political power employed by Big Pharma is the prescription drug benefit added to Medicare in 2003. Until recent years, there was little demand for such a benefit, because prescription medications were less expensive and people did not take as many of them. Today, many seniors take five to six medications daily, which translates into thousands of dollars each year paid out-of-pocket by seniors for prescription medications. Since seniors comprise such a large voting block, both political parties were pressured to produce a drug benefit plan before the 2004 election.
Instead of helping seniors, however, Congress passed a confusing, ineffectual bill that prohibits Medicare from using its enormous purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices. Medicare still has no control over how much drug companies charge seniors for prescription drugs. To further lessen the legislation’s effectiveness, the drug benefit is not administered by Medicare, but by multiple private companies that have little to no bargaining power.
Every other large purchaser in the world is allowed to negotiate prices — but the largest of them all is not allowed to. Why? The answer to that question begins with the 625 Big Pharma lobbyists on Capitol Hill, more than all the members of the House and Senate combined. During the last election campaign, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $250 million in political contributions and lobbying activities, as well as $65 million on a television ad aimed at stopping legislation that would force them to reduce their inflated prices.
Big Pharma now reigns as the single most government-protected industry. Merrill Goozner, the author of The $800 Million Dollar Pill, describes on his blog, GoozNews, how Big Pharma is allowed to:
- charge consumers inflated prices
- produce clear reproductions of old drugs to increase profits
- benefit from lax FDA oversight
- receive enormous tax breaks, along with 20-year monopoly patents.
Where does it end?