Cogs and Crocodiles
Someone sent me a magazine photo depicting George Bush seated at a desk, signing the Medicare Drug Bill in December of 2003. In the background, there are 10 legislators standing behind the president, smiling like a pack of crocodiles that had just torn some poor creature apart and devoured it while it was still breathing. The person who sent the photo wanted me to do a column about the prescription drug problem in America. Always looking for subject matter and eager to prove a point, I accepted the challenge.
The problem is simple. Prescription drugs cost too much.
The major reason prescription drugs cost so much is because government and large corporations run the world, while ordinary people are merely cogs in the economic apparatus controlled by government and large corporations. Big business competes by maximizing profits and government thrives by appropriating a piece of the action. Anyone who strays from being a productive cog becomes an enemy of those who control the system.
Here is a list of the legislators in the photo, some of the finest politicians money can buy, along with the amount of political contributions each had accepted from the health industry (mostly HMOs) and drug industry in the last election. It comes to over $14 million in total. * President George Bush -- Health Industry: $7,549,695; Drug Industry: $891,208 * Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn) -- Health Industry: $1,418,258; Drug Industry: $336,098 * Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Cal) -- Health Industry: $1,021,920; Drug Industry: $322,514 * Sen. Orin Hatch (R-Utah) -- Health Industry: $743,940; Drug Industry: $433,324 * Sen. Max Baucas (D-Mont) -- Health Industry: $646,450; Drug Industry: $145,372 * Rep. Bill Tauzin (R-La) -- Health Industry: $601,077; Drug Industry: $211,249 * Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) -- Health Industry: $573,678; Drug Industry: $217,921 * Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn) -- Health Industry: $550,264; Drug Industry: $123,957 * Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill) -- Health Industry: $545,985; Drug Industry: $194,700 * Rep. Tom Delay (R-Tex) -- Health Industry: $237,199; Drug Industry: $78,250 * Rep. John Breaux (D-La) -- Health Industry: $118,612; Drug Industry: $59,150
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the legislation the President signed will cost an estimated $534 billion over 10 years, and much more in succeeding years as drug prices continue to rise. Since the bill is not funded, this will also add to our already outrageous national fiscal woes.
There is no cost-containment provision in the bill. In the past, Medicare and the Department of Veterans Affairs had been able to negotiate significantly lower prices for drugs due to their enormous purchasing power. However, at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, the legislation prohibits Medicare from negotiating more favorable prices.
According to Public Citizen Report, "drug companies and their trade associations deployed nearly 700 lobbyists to stamp out any proposals that could result in the federal government negotiating the cost of drugs or otherwise limiting the industry's astronomical profits." The federal government and the American consumer will now be at the mercy of the drug industry.
The legislation also fails to include a meaningful provision to facilitate the importation of lower-priced drugs from Canada and does little to make generic drugs more widely available.
Being a small cog in a mighty system is a lot like being trapped in a pit of hungry crocodiles. The corporate crocodiles get rich while the government crocodiles are busy smiling at their constituents, trying to convince the public that being devoured is good for them.
Government of the people, by the people and for the people is a fond notion that died long ago.