Seldom has the naked power of money been so effective as it was in the early morning hours of June 28 when the GOP-controlled House of Representatives made a cash deal with the pharmaceutical industry.

In return for millions of dollars in contributions to a June 19 Republican fundraiser, the House voted to give the industry a $350 million thank you in the form of subsidies to help finance a prescription drug plan for some 40 million seniors and disabled persons covered by Medicare. The 221-208 vote – eight Democrats for, eight Republicans against – came at 2:30 a.m.

In a statement issued before the House vote, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the two actions gave “new meaning” to election-year cynicism. “These proposals, shamefully, are exactly what had been hoped for by the giant pharmaceutical companies – which are already funneling millions of dollars into ad campaigns that thank Republicans for supporting a drug benefit that pushes seniors to the private markets and further away from affordable medicine,” Sweeney said.

The legislation, provides money to for subsidies to insurance companies to induce them to sell a product that does not now exist: insurance covering drug costs but no other medical expenses.

Under the “standard coverage” defined in the House Republican bill, beneficiaries would have to pay premiums of about $33 a month and an annual deductible of $250. Medicare would pay 80 percent of drug costs from $251 to $1,000 a year and 50 percent of drug costs from $1,001 to $2,000. Beneficiaries would then be responsible for all drug costs until they had spent $3,700 of their own money. Medicare would cover all drug costs beyond that. Private insurers would have some freedom to alter premiums and other details of coverage, within limits specified by Congress. The legislation would cover about one-fifth of drug costs expected for the elderly in the next decade.

Opponents of the measure said few insurance companies would find it profitable to write coverage for the elderly and disabled, who, together, account for more than one-third of all prescriptions filled in the United States.

A report issued by Families USA on June 28 says prices of the 50 drugs most often prescribed for elderly people rose at an average of 7.8 percent last year, compared with the 2.8 percent rise in the Consumer Price Index. The sturdy found that prices for 18 of the 50 rose at least three times the rate of inflation.

Of the 50 drugs most often prescribed for the elderly last year, the report said, 40 were brand-name medicines and 10 generic drugs. Prices for the brand-name drugs rose an average of 8.1 percent, it said, while generic-drug prices rose 1.8 percent.

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