News Release

Assessing Bush’s Pharmaceutical Cards

Responding to George W. Bush’s announcement today supporting discount cards for more Medicare recipients to use while buying pharmaceutical drugs, the following board members of Physicians for a National Health Program are available for interviews:

DON McCANNE, M.D.
A retired family physician, McCanne said today: “White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer claims that ‘the president is committed to helping seniors get prescription drugs they need and deserve.’ But this plan is not a government program. It is merely a private, marketplace scheme that is receiving the personal endorsement of President Bush. The program will be administered by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), the prescription drug equivalent of managed care plans. These middleman businesses siphon off health care dollars that should be directed to patient care. The PBMs will sell memberships to Medicare beneficiaries. Providing everyone with a ‘discount’ is no discount at all. It is merely a price that is below an artificially inflated price set for the purpose of creating a fraudulent ‘discount’ price. If Mr. Bush really wants to help seniors ‘get prescription drugs they need and deserve,’ then he would support a bona fide Medicare prescription benefit that minimizes beneficiary cost sharing. Sadly, not even the leading congressional proposals would accomplish this goal.”
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QUENTIN YOUNG, M.D.
National coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program, Young said today: “The pharmaceutical industry justifies its super profits by pointing to research and development costs, but it actually spends more on marketing than on R-and-D. Canada, Mexico and our own U.S. government Veterans Administration get deep discounts on pharmaceuticals by negotiating with manufacturers — up to 60 percent. The White House … could reduce costs sharply by allowing people in the U.S. to import pharmaceuticals from Canada, where they are substantially lower in cost, but this ‘free trade’ administration is suddenly for no trade and doesn’t want importing of low-cost pharmaceuticals when it curtails the drug companies’ profits.”

DAVID HIMMELSTEIN, M.D.
Associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Himmelstein said today: “Medicare already covers some prescription drugs — those administered in a doctor’s office. And the Department of Defense, by law, gets the best prices from drug companies. If the administration were actually interested in covering people inexpensively, they could extend Medicare drug coverage to prescriptions administered outside a doctor’s office. If they, like the Defense Department, insisted on the lowest prices, this would cut drug prices dramatically. But instead, they are telling people they can go to private drug-buying firms, and these firms would negotiate prices with drug stores and distributors, not the drug manufacturers. This puts a squeeze on the retailers, but lets the big pharmaceutical companies off the hook. This is part of a pro-corporate agenda for health care that has no chance of actual progress. The thrust of where they are taking Medicare is to managed care, which has utterly failed in the Medicare program. Letting the HMOs into Medicare has actually cost money, between $2 billion and $3 billion per year according to the General Accounting Office. This is because the government gives HMOs 95 percent of the average cost for a Medicare recipient for each one an HMO signs up, but of course the HMOs cherry-pick the healthy ones; 18 percent of Medicare patients cost them nothing at all. Then, when HMO customers do get a major illness and start accruing serious bills, they’ve gone back to standard Medicare. Medicare is actually much more efficient than the HMOs — it has 2 percent overhead, whereas they have 15 percent overhead.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167