Thursday, October 15, 2009

Obama, Big Pharma, & you (mimus you)


So it looks as though we are going to get a health-care-reform bill. Now the question is whether it will be reform, or "reform": whether it will improve the way we care for people in this country or, for the most part, be a taxpayer-funded boon to the warped and wasteful industry we already know. Call me naive or cynical—or both—but I can't quite get my mind around the notion that the way to bring "change we can believe in" is to cut an upfront deal with Billy Tauzin.  (Click here to follow Howard Fineman).

Nothing against Billy, of course. At 66, Wilbert Joseph "Billy" Tauzin II is what he is: a Louisiana politician and former congressman with the Bayou-bred knack for cloaking brainpower and bare-knuckle tactics in bonhomie; a masterful mixologist of power and money; and, since 2005, the president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which he joined (for a reported $2.5 million a year) shortly after playing the key congressional role in enacting a Medicare prescription-drug plan that is a bonanza for the industry he now (officially) serves.

Barack Obama ran on the claim that he would be the new sheriff in town, that he and his posse of fresh-faced Rhodes Scholars would tame the capital's ruling class. But the first thing that he and his tacticians, Rahm Emanuel and Jim Messina, did on health care was to strike a bargain with Tauzin. Big Pharma, it was agreed last June, would kick in $80 billion over 10 years to help shrink the "donut hole" in seniors' Medicare prescription-drug coverage and would spend $150 million on a pro-reform ad campaign. In exchange, the White House would oppose congressional attempts to extract more, and would specifically fight two common-sense, long-overdue reforms that Big Pharma fears most: allowing imports of cheaper drugs and empowering Medicare to negotiate directly with the industryto keep prices down, as the VA long has done. The administration has similar understandings with other stakeholders, such as the hospital and doctors' groups—and still hopes to engineer one with the health insurers. [...[

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