- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

It’s tough being a liberal these days. If you want to maintain your political equilibrium you have a difficult choice: toss your positions overboard or the people you claim to care about. Well, not so difficult actually. Liberals are terrified that markets might solve problems it insists are solvable only with government programs and regulation. The real strategic choice of the left is whether to destroy the markets or discourage people from relying on them. Since it is hard to undermine markets, liberals are quick to let the people they care about suffer rather than hand political opponents a victory.

The left’s behavior on two seemingly unrelated issues underscore this reactionary instinct gripping the Liberal Elite: the new Medicare prescription drug card and the exciting effort to solve global health problems through public-private partnerships. Here’s what Ted Kennedy said of the drug card: “One of the ? features I find enormously appealing is what they call ? the discount card that seniors will be issued.”

Indeed, Medicare data shows that of the 9 million to 10 million seniors eligible for the card, about 4.2 million seniors that have three chronic illnesses. They spend an average of $1,400 a year out of pocket. Many of these seniors are low income. They are guaranteed $600 in cash and eligible for drug programs offered by private companies. Discounts and the cash will reduce what they pay by about 75 percent or free up more money to purchase additional medicines with a card and through drug plans offered by drug companies.

The entire population of 7 million low-income beneficiaries will save more than $600 per year in 2004 and 2005 because of free or low-cost medications that many pharmaceutical companies are offering as “wrap-arounds” once the $600 credit is used up.

You would think a program that makes medicines immediately available at little or no cost to 7 million seniors — would be embraced by the left. But here’s what the champion of the poor said of the drug card after the Medicare bill became law. “Only in this administration would the words ‘discount card’ mean seniors get the card while corporations get the discounts. In fact, the more senior citizens learn about the administration’s prescription drug program, the angrier they get — and rightly so.”

Actually, liberals and some Republican governors who have taken up hating drug companies are working hard to keep seniors from learning anything at all. Democratic Party information kits are chock full of hints on how to discourage the elderly from signing up. Some Republican governors — like Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota — are setting up Web sites that shill for Canadian pharmacies even though the vast majority of seniors in their states would save much more money through the Medicare card. The Minnesota Web site has signed up only 1,400 seniors for Canadian drugs. Nearly 200,000 seniors in his state are eligible for a Medicare card. Of those, 60 percent are eligible for nearly $1200 in cash and free medicines from drug companies over two years. Pawlenty — and other governors — hide this information from seniors.

The hatred of market-oriented solutions has both political and public-health consequences, globally as well. Years ago, AIDS activists had a choice: to challenge governments and private companies to mount an expensive relief effort and build up public health systems or divert their radical ire to the war against capitalism. They decided to organize an entire campaign, a hugely successful one — to blame the infectious disease epidemic on pharmaceutical patents and prices. Oxfam summed up the sentiment when it proclaimed that drug companies “by aggressively enforcing its patents in poor countries, are pricing life-saving drugs beyond the reach of millions of poor people.” They insisted that if you seized their patents and gave them to generic companies to make the medicines, the problem would disappear.

But it turns out that patents have never been a barrier to getting HIV drugs or any drugs. Only 21 percent of all HIV drugs are patented anywhere in Africa. And a recent study in Health Affairs found that 99.9 percent of all the drugs deemed essential by the World Health Organization have no patents either.

Meanwhile, companies are selling their medicines below generic prices and donate about $1 billion worth of medicines and health-care support annually. They are giving away technology to allow African nations to produce safe generic versions of their medicines at cost. But like the left in America, the left globally actively has discouraged developing countries to accept private sector support. Instead, they urge the poor to man the barricades of the revolution.

The left — here and abroad — is complicit in perpetuating the suffering of those who need health care most. They need the poor and downtrodden to achieve their political objectives and use them as pawns even when there is an opportunity to work on their behalf. Their behavior is more than cynical. It is indecent as well.

Robert Goldberg is director of theCenterforMedical Progress at the Manhattan Institute.

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