- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

For all the blather coming from the Democrats about how the Bush administration has politicized science, it is the party in power that seeks to impose its ideology on medicine to the detriment of the public health.

Recently an advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration recommended against allowing individuals to use new painkiller developed by Merck called Arcoxia that caused 50 percent fewer stomach ulcers than other pain medicines it was tested against. Why? The committee was less concerned about the millions of patients who might have benefited from a new treatment and do not respond to other painkillers because of subtle genetic differences that doctors and scientists know about. Rather than responding to science, they were reacting to their political masters on Capital Hill who were ready to beat up the FDA if it approved “another Vioxx.”

The contempt for science is on display in all its glory in the Senate where today the Democrats are hoping to gain cloture on the so-called Medicare Fair Prescription Drug Price Act of 2007. This bill would allow the the government to determine which drugs work better for every senior than others and impose government prices as does the Veterans Affairs program. The goal is not better health but in the words of the union-backed Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), to “save enough money to not only fund current SCHIP obligations but would have enough savings to expand it to cover nearly all uninsured American Children.”

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a principal sponsor of the bill, went so far as to tell fellow Finance Committee members that the Veteran’s Affair drug benefit has 4,500 drugs compared to the 3,500 drugs offered by private drug plans under Medicare Part D. So therefore, Mrs. Stabenow argued, you can save money and increase choice at the same time. In fact, Mrs. Stabenow and CAF misinformed the Senate. The VA has 4,500 different dosages of 1,300 medicines offered by the more restrictive VA plan. In other words, if you want five different forms of penicillin and five different doses of generic Tylenol, the VA is just super. But since the game is to save $30 billion a year — consider what will happen to every new medicine for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression or cancer drugs targeted to specific genetic mutations, as well as Lipitor and Zocor (misspelled Zucor by Mrs. Stabenow and her left wing associates) — then forget it.

Not only that, the one size fits all approach is being enshrined in what as known as “comparative effectiveness” analysis where studies are used to determine on a one size fits all basis which drug to use and pay for. Private plans in America have begun to use genetic tests to match the right drug for the right patient to achieve the best outcome, right off the bat insuring that new medicines get to people faster than ever. By contrast in Britain, Germany, France, Canada and Australia, comparative effectiveness analysis has been used to cut off treatments for stomach cancer, hold off on treatments for osteoporosis until bones break, deny access to drugs for Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis because, while they might improve the quality of life, they don’t increase survival. To top it all off, in all these systems, systems that advisers to Democrats hold out as models not just to adopt but to adore, the value of an additional year of life is worth only $50,000, less than a Lexus. Perhaps when Senators offer amendments to the bill, Senator Stabenow can propose placing members of Congress under this cookie cutter approach if it so wonderful, bad spelling and all.

President Bush has announced he will veto the Senate version of the Medicare bill because market competition is working. But there is a better reason to scuttle the legislation. Consolidating the power of politicians and bureaucrats to decide what drugs people get based on ideology, particularly when science is making it increasingly possible to discern, develop and adjust therapies consistent with our individual biologies is political arrogance and scientific tyranny.

Jacob Bronowski, the mathematician and philosopher reflected, “Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge or error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.”

In the rush to exercise power, the Democrats have failed to exercise judgment or display compassion. They are reacting to it inside the blogosphere base that feeds on its own vicious and often anti-Semitic rage against conservatives and traditional liberals. In any authoritarian movement, science is usually the first enterprise to be sacrificed. The Democratic Party health care policies have little to do with people, science or health care. Rather than closing the distance between the push button order and our humanity they are widening it.

Robert Goldberg is vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

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