Rx DRUG COSTS: Issue Featured Prominently at Convention
The issue of prescription drug costs took center stage yesterday at the Democratic National Convention, as Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) "attempted to show that ... costs are too high," the Detroit Free Press reports. Joined by 70-year-old Michigan resident Dorothy Price, Stabenow said, "We've come a long way, when it comes to health care. But there's more to do." Stabenow, currently "locked in a tough Senate race" with Sen. Abraham Spencer (R-Mich.), has spoken about medication costs during several campaign appearances in Michigan. A videotape presentation accompanied her convention address, which was "placed ... at the end of a string of speeches on problems affecting real people" (McConnell, 8/15). Other congressional candidates have used prescription drugs as their main issue on the campaign trail. Here is a summary of recent campaign action involving prescription drugs:
- West Virginia: The issue of prescription drug prices has come to the forefront in West Virginia's gubernatorial race, the Charleston Daily Mail reports. U.S. Rep. Bob Wise (D-W.Va.), who is challenging Gov. Cecil Underwood (R), has supported legislation allowing Medicare to cover prescription drugs. Wise also believes that the governor "should negotiate directly with drug companies to get discounts for seniors," the Daily Mail reports. On the other hand, Underwood advocates using $6 million to $8 million in lottery funds to hire state employees to work with pharmaceutical companies to gain access to free drugs for seniors (LeRoy, 8/9).
- Nebraska: As part of AARP's 20-state tour to campaign for a Medicare prescription drug benefit, seniors gathered on the steps of Nebraska's state Capitol last week, the Lincoln Journal Star reports. Mary Jane O'Gara, an AARP board member, said seniors should not have to choose "between their prescription drugs or whether to have dinner tonight." The AARP plans to hold rallies in 23 cities nationwide to express support for Medicare drug coverage (Walton, 8/9). Prescription drug costs also have been featured in the state's U.S. Senate race. Ben Nelson (D), who is challenging state Attorney General Don Stenberg (R) for Sen. Bob Kerry's (D) seat, recently advocated a "voluntary supplemental Medicare program" that would allow seniors to continue their current coverage or select a new program with an additional premium and a co-payment, the Omaha World-Herald reports. During a press conference last week at an Omaha pharmacy, Nelson said, "As medications improve and are better for us, they go beyond our ability to pay" (Walton, 8/10). Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) also advocated a prescription drug benefit during an appearance at Lincoln's Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center, saying that Medicare should cover prescription drugs, but proposals should not eliminate the private sector's motivation to continue research and development, the Lincoln Journal Star reports. "I absolutely oppose price controls. I believe the marketplace does work," Hagel said. He has proposed prescription drug coverage for those "who need it the most" and "protection against catastrophic" drug costs (Walton, 8/10).
Give Seniors Vouchers, Wall Street Journal States
Noting that "the number of elderly vulnerable to devastating drug bills is a fraction of the senior population," a Wall Street Journal editorial argues that a "new, big" government-run Medicare prescription drug program is "overkill" and "foolish." Calling drug companies an "easy target," the Journal notes that their "product is often a life-and-death event for which it is natural to feel a sense of entitlement. Their pricing decisions are a matter of total secrecy and result in massively different prices for the same drug." But the paper says that prescription drug prices "no matter how confusing and suspicious" make sense in light of the fact that companies use the profits to create new medications. The editorial notes that one-third of Medicare beneficiaries lack prescription drug coverage and of those, 13% have no drug costs, 57% have costs lower than $1,000, and 7% have costs over $2,000 a year. Thus, the Journal states lawmakers are left to devise a plan for one million seniors "who, presumably, want but cannot afford a drug insurance plan." The Journal concludes by proposing that the federal government offer vouchers to low-income seniors so they can purchase drug coverage through private insurers. The paper says that such a plan would not take away from drug companies' profits, which are necessary to ensure new medicines "we all want" (8/10).