Friday, August 7, 2009

Even more change we can believe in.

There it was, right there on page one of Thursday’s New York Times: “White House Affirms Deal on Drug Cost: Will Block Any Move for Added Savings.”

Yessir, those good folks at big Pharma have pledged to cut costs by $80 billion over the next decade, which is chump change to one of the richest industries in the country. That’s $8bn a year, less than one-tenth of the total cost of the proposed healthcare reform.

As always, the details are fuzzy.

What is important is the message the White House has sent: nobody, but nobody, is going to fuck with Obama’s corporate handlers.

It seems that after big Pharma cut their deal with the White House, Congress started making noises about gouging bigger cuts out of the industry. Not that big Pharma had anything to worry about. They are one of Congress’s major shareholders, and congressvolk never bite the hand that feeds them.

But it was the principle of the thing that mattered, so the White House assured them that Obama would block any cuts over and above the $80 billion agreed upon in a closed-door meeting that excluded any of the people’s representatives.

As White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina explained, “The president encouraged this approach. He wanted to bring all the parties to the table to discuss health insurance reform.”

All parties, that is, except the public.

The $80 billion is not really a cut. Rather it’s a marketing expense because any sort of public health plan can only benefit big Pharma. If the forty-plus million individuals now uninsured are given coverage, then it follows that a large percentage of them are going to need the drugs they currently can’t afford, which will translate into more sales and more profits.

Even the industry’s promise to help seniors by cutting the price of brand-name drugs by fifty percent will boost their profits. Their thinking is that this will lure many seniors away from the generic drugs they now buy in order to have enough money to put food on their tables.

So, let’s look at an example of this “benefit.” I have acid reflux. My doctor first prescribed Nexium, which cost me $215 a month. When I complained about the price, he switched me to Omeprazole, which costs me $15 a month.[1]

If big Pharma comes to my rescue and cuts the price of Nexium by fifty percent, that means I’ll be able to get the drug for 107.50 and that will yield me a net loss of $92.50 a month.

Some benefit.

So the spin spins and the dance goes on; sweet songs are sung into the microphones while deals are cut in back rooms.

I guess that’s the change we can believe in.

[1] Consumer Reports. September, 2009.

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