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May 24, 2004, 9:45 P.M.

O, Canada: I heard Governor Benson and Rep. Jeb Bradley on New Hampshire Public Radio this morning expressing support for the lifting of bans on prescription drug imports from Canada and elsewhere. The Bush administration has vigorously resisted such imports.

Of course, the Bush administration and some Republican candidates have been, and continue to be the recipients of huge campaign contributions from major drug companies. In fact, employees at 28 firms and their parent companies certified by the Bush administration to be national distributors of discount prescription drug cards contributed $1.8 million dollars to Republican candidates in this year’s election thus far, according to figures from the Center for Responsive Politics. This figure includes $275,000.00 to the Bush campaign.

In April of this year, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Pharmacy Care Alliance, an organization that is sponsoring one of the drug cards, conducted a poll that demonstrated that most Medicare beneficiaries knew little about the card, including the $600.00 subsidy for low income seniors. According to a CNN report on April 29, 2004, the administration’s response was to mount an $18 million television ad campaign calling on Republican lawmakers to aggressively promote the cards to constituents and to increase funding to state agencies that help older and disabled Americans with questions about Medicare.

The discount cards are intended to be a temporary measure meant to cut drug costs for Medicare recipients without drug insurance until 2006, when the Medicare prescription drug benefit is set to begin. Unfortunately, the 17 percent savings anticipated on brand-name drugs (up to 30% on generics) is nowhere near the savings that would be realized if the administration would, as Governor Benson suggests, lift restrictions on Canadian imports. I have to give the devil his due. Benson is right on this one. He won’t get much support, however, because as long as pharmaceutical companies, and apparently their employees, continue to make huge campaign contributions, little will be done to cut into their profit, even if it means a real benefit to consumers and seniors.

We do not yet know the actual cost of the prescription drug plan, but we do know that even the bill’s supporters were concerned that the administration has misrepresented the true costs. This is especially troubling when the connection between big drug companies and insurance companies is understood. The drug companies spend millions to elect sympathetic state and federal legislators and the legislators in turn pass an expensive and expansive plan which in turn subsidizes the drug and insurance industries, protects them from liability and protects them from free market competition.

As for the cost of the drug bill, 19 Democrats have filed suit to force the administration to turn over estimates of the cost of the Medicare legislation. The administration has thus far refused to turn over the documents. I dare say it’s not because the estimates, known to the administration at the time it was lobbying Congress for the passage of the bill, show that the bill is less expensive than was represented to Congress. So far the Department of Health and Human Services has resisted the release of the documents, claiming the suit is politically motivated. Well, duh, of course it is, just as the attempt to keep the documents a secret is, but that doesn’t change the fact that at the same time that President Bush was insisting that the legislation would cost no more than $400 billion over 40 years (a number now generally accepted to be several billion short), Medicare’s top analyst was projecting a cost of at least $500 billion. That’s a saving of $1 billion per year, just among friends.

So to gain support for its Medicare bill, and to convince seniors of its benefits (and, of course, to convince them to support the administration in the next election) the administration produced and distributed a stock ad campaign to television and radio stations. Those ads have been labeled “propaganda” and have been determined to be illegal by the Government Accounting Office. The ads were deceptive in that the government was never identified as the source of the ads, and the ads were made to appear like news reports. Of course, the media outlets who ran the ads never questioned them, but that’s another story. The ads are illegal because federal law prohibits the use of federal money for publicity or propaganda purposes not authorized by Congress. The GAO found that the administration violated the law by distributing ads and editorials written by the government that did not identify the source. In short, the funding of his campaign constitutes a misuse of federal funds. All to avoid reigning in prescription drug costs at the source.

Meanwhile, Governor Benson’s current tune seems to be “O, Canada.”


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