- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

GI benefits

As an Army veteran with 33 years service, Dan K. Thomasson’s “Military death benefits” diatribe and accompanying drawing of a crying eagle was enough to make me sick (Commentary, Monday). Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, was shown repeatedly on Fox News supporting the death benefit legislation. I am a strong supporter of Mr. Allen, but the proposal to increase the federal government’s military death-benefit to $100,000 is a red herring and a political maneuver that needs thorough investigation.

As Mr. Thomasson indicated, the Army already provides a $250,000 life insurance policy (Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance, or SGLI) at a cost of about $16.25 per month, and almost no soldiers are stupid enough not to enroll. In my experience, SGLI pays in a timely manner. Further, there are numerous other inexpensive life and disability insurance options available to soldiers. One can check out the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) insurance policies, for example.

I suggest Mr. Allen and Mr. Thomasson work to improve SGLI rather than create more unnecessary federal benefits and more erosion of personal responsibility. SGLI has been a good program for as long as I can remember and perhaps only needs to be tweaked with benefit increases and other improvements. For example, when I retired, my SGLI policy was dropped like a rock with no notice, as if Army retirees no longer deserve or need SGLI.

ART BACHMAN

Gum Spring, Va.

Rx for misinformation

John Goodman’s diagnosis of what ails international drug pricing could benefit from a second opinion (“Free trade tack for drug imports,” Commentary, Monday).

Mr. Goodman says that “if ‘negotiations’ break down and the American company refuses to sell at the price Canada is asking, Canada reserves the right to ignore the drug patent and allow its domestic firms to produce a generic equivalent (a procedure called ‘compulsory licensing’).” In fact, Canada virtually eliminated compulsory licensing more than 17 years ago. Drug companies that do not want to sell their pharmaceuticals in Canada are certainly free not to do so. Overwhelmingly, though, they choose to operate — profitably — in Canada.

Mr. Goodman also claims that Canada uses government price controls to keep drug prices below what the market would charge; the evidence clearly shows otherwise. In every year since 1993, drug companies have lowered prices or increased them at less than the maximum level allowed by our system. Indeed, in 2003, drug prices in Canada fell by 1 percent even though our price-review system allowed for increases of 3 percent.

Then there is the claim that Canada charges higher prices for generic drugs than the United States to protect the home-grown generic-drug industry. But the same economists on whom he relied for his piece found that Canadian generics are actually 6 percent cheaper than their U.S. generic counterparts.

Several factors affect pharmaceutical pricing in Canada. These include: exchange rates (Canada’s currency has appreciated by 30 percent against the U.S. dollar in the past few years, significantly narrowing the price differential); differences in per capita national income (drugs are priced to what individual markets will bear, and U.S. incomes are higher than those in Canada); the presence of large provincial bulk purchasers that, like the Department of Veterans Affairs, use their purchasing power to keep costs down; higher U.S. product liability costs; and a Canadian prohibition on direct-to-consumer advertising, which some have estimated can add up to 10 percent to the price of a prescription drug.

BERNARD ETZINGER

Spokesman

Embassy of Canada

Washington

Bush and U.S. borders

The article “Immigration officials hit lack of new hires” (Page 1, Monday) describes President Bush blocking all new efforts to secure our borders. Mr. Bush apparently has little concern for the safety of our Border Patrol agents, as evidenced by his reneging on his promise of funding 2,000 additional agents this year. He now plans to have 200 new agents this year rather than the 2,000 promised in the Homeland Security bill.

This is the same president who had no problem signing a bill for a $1 billion bailout of health care for illegal aliens, which was tacked onto the Medicare prescription-drug bill. Mexican drug lords have put prices on the heads of American law enforcement officials, and now the State Department has issued traveler’s warnings because of escalating violence. The White House is in obvious denial about our porous borders and the danger to our Border Patrol agents.

BOB ALLAN

Rochester Hills, Mich.

President Bush obviously is not interested in solving the nation’s immigration woes. Hiring 10,000 new agents definitely would have helped prevent illegal foreigners from crossing our borders, but of course, then big corporations would not have the ringing of coins in their cash registers.

Does the Bush administration really think it is fooling the American public?

Past administrations were interested in the welfare of the American people; the Bush administration is only interested in the almighty dollar.

PRISCILLA ESPINOZA

Nuevo, Calif.

Hazardous judges

Foreign terrorists are not signatories to, nor do they abide by, the Geneva Conventions. They neither fight under a national flag nor wear the uniform of a national army. It is highly doubtful, despite the assertions of certain liberal pundits, that terrorists are even covered by the protections of the Geneva Conventions (“Rights of Gitmo prisoners upheld,” Page 1, Tuesday).

Nevertheless, these same foreign thugs kill our soldiers, kidnap innocent (and unarmed) civilians and plot the death of Americans and the destruction of our country nearly every waking moment of their miserable existence. Given the opportunity, they surely would eviscerate the U.S. Constitution and subjugate those Americans whom they “graciously” allow to live under their rule. Yet now, U.S. District Senior Judge Joyce Hens Green — who came out of retirement to rule on the case — has granted 54 such terrorists rights under that same Constitution.

Ignore, for the moment, whether this judge should have exercised a measure of restraint (and, perhaps, a corresponding measure of humility) and left the matter to the jurisdiction of our military courts.

Judge Green’s ruling ought to serve as a reminder and a warning to every American citizen about the hazards of allowing activist judges, and the liberals who support or appoint them, to gain public office in the future. We ought to be especially wary of liberals who take new public stances (in spite of, or maybe because of, diametrically opposite past positions), hoping to gain office by appearing to be in line with prevailing conservative public sentiment. The junior U.S. senator from New York might be one such chameleon. We choose such people at our peril.

SCOTT A. BYRD

Vienna

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