Monday, August 10, 2009

Staying in Bed with Big Pharma

Some free market this is. From Robert Reich at Salon:

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.


I don't want to be puritanical about all this. Politics is a rough game in which means and ends often get mixed and melded. Perhaps the White House deal with Big Pharma is a necessary step to get anything resembling universal health insurance. But if that's the case, our democracy is in terrible shape. How soon until big industries and their Washington lobbyists have become so politically powerful that secret White House-industry deals like this are prerequisites to any important legislation? When will it become standard practice that such deals come with hundreds of millions of dollars of industry-sponsored TV advertising designed to persuade the public that the legislation is in the public's interest? (Any Democrats and progressives who might be reading this should ask themselves how they'll feel when a Republican White House cuts such deals to advance its own legislative priorities.)

We're on a precarious road -- and wherever it leads, it's not toward democracy.


T said...

Ugh, I hate that this is basically all true. I wish that it weren't.

Once the choice is between super-super-super tepid 'reform' and nothing, the fat cats have already won.

It's undoubtedly true that Obama isn't getting his way. But its a very interesting question why not, and its also worth asking what the significance of him getting his way would have been. I feel like he's not getting his way, in part, because he's OK with as much. His strategy has been to offer many concessions to the insurers in order not to pick a big fight -because if he was going to pick a fight presumably he wouldn't have started with such a tepid proposal.

But exchanging tit for tat with the big guys isn't exactly a strategy to get popular support for a measure that the Right is unified in trying to derail.

Obama thought this would be a lot easier than it is, and he thought that partly because he knew that planks of his plan are amenable to the profit motives of insurers. But there is no such thing as 'enough' for these people- they pay big money to have lobbyists fighting for every cent of difference in legislation affecting their industry.

I don't know how Lyndon Johnson passed Medicare, but it would be worth reading up on that shit. I have no clue how it happened -it had every indication of being as hopeless a goal as the current reform effort. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that LBJ was previously a powerful Senate majority leader and knew how to twist arms. Obama, on the other hand, STARTED OFF THE CONVERSATION by patronizingly claiming that he wanted 'to hear from everybody' including the Right.

T said...

"That's basically the same deal George W. Bush struck in getting the Medicare drug benefit"

Yes. And to juxtapose this with the rhetoric of "CHANGE" and "HOPE" makes my stomach turn.