- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2007

Today, a majority in the House will likely vote to require the Department of Health and Human Services to “negotiate” prices directly with drug and biotech firms. Despite flabby language in the legislation that claims the bill would not require Medicare to restrict access to medicines in order to bargain down prices, those voting for the bill will be voting against the freedom of seniors to choose the drugs they want from private plans that compete for business based on cost, quality and service.

Supporters of price controls believe that independent of government using its “purchasing power,”consumers are getting a raw deal because drug and biotech firms generate windfall profits by dint of their lobbying clout. Yet, both Medicare’s actuaries and the Congressional Budget Office have concluded that without restrictive formularies or direct price controls that the Democratic proposal will save no money compared to the current consumer-centered system. Indeed, their plan, because it would require a new bureaucracy, will cost more.

Meanwhile, thanks to competition Medicare costs over the next decade will be $89 billion less than then a previously reduced estimate. This is happening even as more people are using more drugs. At the same time, Medicare costs have been relatively flat in part because spending on medicines reduces spending on more expensive medical services to treat chronic care.

Today’s op-eds by Robert Goldberg and Rep. Jim McCrery show when Democrats talk about lowering drug prices they never mention that it comes at the expense of seniors themselves. Families USA came out with another misleading report claiming the 20 drugs most commonly used by seniors are cheaper when bought directly by government than through the Medicare Part D plans. The group ignores the fact that nine of the drugs on the Families USA list — 45 percent — are either unavailable under the VA health system or have limits imposed on access. That’s no surprise since the VA limits people to certain drugs and eliminates privately run drugstores to drive down prices below those already imposed by government. We find it amusing that though Families USA wants to strip seniors of their access to essential medicines it calls itself “the voice of healthcare consumers.” The echo chamber of the radical left is more like it.

Groucho Marx observed, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” So, we don’t doubt Democrats will seek another way to make price controls a reality, perhaps by arguing that less choice isn’t so bad after all. We only hope that this confederacy of foolishness will disappear before real damage is done to our public health.

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