Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review July 18, 2000 /14 Tamuz, 5760

Morton Kondracke

Kondracke
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports


Bush Must Fight Gore's Drug Plan As 'Bad Medicine'


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- VICE PRESIDENT Al Gore's attacks on drug companies may be good politics, but they are bad medicine. It's up to Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) to say so, but so far he hasn't.

Even though medicines produced by pharmaceutical companies are heavily responsible for improved U.S. health and life expectancy, the industry's own polls indicate that the companies aren't popular.

On a favorability scale of zero to 10, a survey conducted in February for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association found that the public rated drug companies at 5.2, only slightly ahead of health insurance companies, at 4.1, and managed care providers, 3.6.

Gore is taking advantage of this reality, pummeling drug companies with populist rhetoric to promote his Medicare prescription drug benefit. He's been hitting HMOs and insurance companies, too.

Gore accuses drug companies of "price-gouging" and says he will make drugs cheaper for senior citizens. He charges that drug companies oppose him -- and donate to Republicans -- in order to keep their products overpriced and their profits high.

What Gore doesn't say -- and Bush should -- is that the Democrat's plan would put the federal government in charge of drug pricing and coverage decisions, almost certainly inhibiting lifesaving medical research and innovation.

There are no direct price controls in the Medicare plan favored by Gore, the Clinton administration and most Congressional Democrats. Theoretically, a private company in each region would negotiate price reductions with drug companies on behalf of seniors.

But that's the theory behind Medicare, too. The reality is that the federal Health Care Financing Administration -- the agency that oversees Medicare -- now rigidly decides how much the government will pay for medical procedures and hospital services. The same thing surely would happen with drugs.

HCFA's over-regulation and underpayment is the reason HMOs give for dropping out of Medicare, forcing 1.4 million seniors to find new coverage.

HCFA's administration of Congressional cost-cutting directives in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 also has driven many hospitals and nursing homes into bankruptcy, necessitating corrective action by Congress.

In hearings before the House Commerce Committee, witnesses charged that HCFA takes up to four years to approve coverage and reimbursement levels for new medical technologies after they've been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.

When Medicare claims are denied, they testified, it takes an average of 783 days to process an appeal. HCFA red tape has led many doctors to refuse to treat Medicare patients. HCFA covers up to six months of hospice care for dying patients, but may cut them off if they live longer.

This record suggests that the pharmaceutical industry is right to fear that HCFA inevitably will set prices so low that the industry will not be able to afford to do the research it takes to develop new drugs. These cost on average $500 million to bring to market. Only one in five drugs that undergo human testing actually reach the market.

Those that do make it have produced astounding results, raising life expectancy from 70 to 76 over the past 35 years and saving hundreds of billions in hospital stays, surgical bills and lost productivity.

Tuberculosis, polio and the flu have ceased to be killer diseases thanks to U.S. drug development. Rheumatic fever, stomach ulcers and hypertension are less deadly. And hope for curing cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer's disease lies with pharmaceutical investment. So does exploitation of human genome discoveries.

Drug company profit margins may indeed be "too high" and drug prices for the one-third of all seniors lacking insurance coverage surely are. But how this problem is corrected is a crucial matter for the health of the world -- literally.

U.S. companies produce about half of the major new medicines developed in the world. No disease cures are being discovered in Canada or Mexico, countries that Democrats lionize for their government-controlled low drug prices.

There is reason to doubt that a House-passed Republican alternative to Gore's plan will work. Instead of providing benefits to seniors, it would subsidize insurance companies that offer drug benefits. The insurance industry says companies won't participate.

But a third alternative exists, proposed by Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), which offers a benefit directly to seniors and opens the way for various companies to compete for their business and negotiate with drug firms on prices, all with more government oversight than the GOP plan.

Breaux-Frist is the alternative favored by Bush. But, do you know about it? Bush is responding to Gore's attacks on the drug industry by accusing Gore of reinventing himself as a populist.

What Bush needs to do is wage an aggressive campaign on behalf of the nation's health, pointing out the dangers in Gore's plan and the benefits of his own. Unpopular as they are, drug companies can't fight the government on their own.



JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

Up

07/13/00: Mexico's Election Supports U.S. Action On NAFTA, Bailout
07/10/00: Abortion is good for something --- just ask AlGore
07/06/00: Meet Steve Ricchetti, Bubba's secret weapon
06/30/00: AlGore is down, but is he out?
06/27/00: Social programs caught in election-year game of one-up
06/22/00: Congress Is Near Flunking a Test On School Reform
06/16/00: Doting on the grandparents
06/13/00: On Stem Cells, Bush Has Wrong Pro-Life Stance
06/08/00: Has Gore Caught Bush?
05/26/00: PNTR Vote Could Tell Which Party Fits 'New Economy'
05/23/00: The secret to winning the election: Economic programs
05/18/00: Gore should regroup
05/16/00: McCain's Support Is Tepid, But Lets Bush Focus on Gore
05/11/00: Voters need wonk training
05/09/00: Bush Could Score With Charge That Gore's Too Partisan
04/28/00: Reno's force aids Clinton, not Elian
04/25/00: Should Clinton be indicted?
04/24/00: Can Gore win on Bush tax cuts?
04/18/00: Levin's 'bridge' key to China trade?
04/11/00: Congress, U.S. Voters Still Aren't Ready For Campaign Reform
04/06/00: Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser
03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

©1999, NEA