One can always tell when their enemies are on the defensive – they offer deals to get you off their tail.

Such is the case when it comes to drug companies, where we have witnessed all kinds of bait-and-switch schemes when it comes to Medicare. There, they and their Wall Street partners, calling themselves HMOs, were the culprits. They offered Medicare recipients a yearly stipend of between $500 and $1,000 that could be spent on prescription drugs. To gain this benefit, however, a Medicare beneficiary had to leave the safe haven of federal Medicare and sign up with a private Medicare company, usually referred to as a Medicare HMO.

Most honest policymakers knew this gimmick would end up being a “bait-and-switch” scheme and, sure enough, just a couple of years after starting this privatization of the Medicare program, the HMOs eliminated the drug benefit. But, the Medicare recipient was stuck in the privatized Medicare HMO.

Many health care advocates are asking the question: “What is the use of a physician prescribing medication for his or her patient when the patient cannot buy the drugs?” It is an old story – that along with the examination and diagnosis must come the right to the drugs necessary to implement the doctor’s advice.

So now the drug companies are beginning a new media blitz to show how “humane” they are by offering a free one-week or even one-month supply of certain drugs for treating everything from acid indigestion to diabetes.

But, a something-for-nothing, casino mentality is at work here. The goal of the drug companies is to propose small piecemeal drug deals to get people’s minds off the need for drug price controls.

European and Canadian governments have successfully negotiated price controls with the international drug cartels for decades. This kind of negotiation takes place in the U.S. also. It happens on a routine basis in the federal/state Medicaid program and in the Veterans Adminstration hospitals. Price ceiling negotiation also takes place in the New York State EPIC program where seniors can qualify for affordable prescription drugs.

The State of Maine has been the pacesetter in enacting legislation to limit the price of prescription drugs. Labor and its allies should band together and proclaim, for example, “Maine in Ohio” or “Maine in Florida” legislative programs in a state-by-state campaign to impose a ceiling on drug prices.

Of course, the drug cartel will cry: “We need profits to do research,” and “Cutting back our profits is self-defeating – it will stop important drug development.”

Let them bellyache. The truth is quite the opposite. By eliminating the millions of dollars spent on drug advertising and political contributions a cure for many illnesses and diseases would be closer.

Prescription drug manufacturers are out of control. It will take a strong local, state and federal government to bring them under control. This can only be accomplished through the street heat that can convince politicians to do the right thing. This year’s Congressional elections are a good place to start a massive anti-drug company campaign.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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