Monday, October 31, 2005

The plan behind the plan

What are we to make of these two stories? The first says Bush is going to unveil the long-awaited (and unforgiveably tardy) pandemic flu plan tomorrow. The plan includes proposals to beef up stockpiles of vaccines and antivirals and allegedly also a fund to build infrastructure (AP via Yahoo News). Sounds good, if they are serious about it.

Then there's this: "Congress Weighs Big Cuts to Medicaid and Medicare." That's the Republican Congress, folks, Bush's party. I guess they aren't in on the "plan." Or maybe they are another part of the plan, the part that won't be publicized on Tuesday:
Congressional committees have proposed substantial cutbacks in Medicaid and Medicare, the nation's largest health insurance programs, which together cover more than one-fourth of all Americans.


The House bill would take all of its savings from Medicaid, the program for low-income people, while leaving Medicare, the program for those 65 and older and the disabled, untouched, as the Bush administration wants. By contrast, the Senate bill would squeeze savings from both programs.
The new cuts are estimated to save $4 billion for the feds and $3 billion for the states in the next five years. $7 billion dollars in five years. We will burn $7 billion in a little over a month in Iraq. The Iraq mistake is already costing almost thirty times the estimated savings from five years of painful cuts to our oldest and most vulnerable citizens. al-Qaeda must be delighted.

Not everyone will suffer, however. Big Pharma doesn't want to get hurt and it's putting on a full court press to see it doesn't happen.
Federal auditors and investigators have repeatedly found that Medicaid overpays pharmacies. The Senate and House bills would reduce those payments. The Senate bill would also require drug manufacturers to give larger discounts to Medicaid, a provision not included in the House bill.

Craig L. Fuller, president of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, a trade group, said he did not understand how House Republicans could cut payments to pharmacies and increase co-payments for poor people without requiring drug manufacturers to make any contribution to the savings.

But Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a lobbying organization for brand-name drug companies, said the price concessions required by the Senate bill could hurt Medicaid recipients and other patients by forcing drug makers to "reduce research and development of life-saving medicines."
This kind of lobbying from Big Pharma is the height (or depth) of something so rotten, uncaring and immoral it takes your breath away.

So "the pandemic plan" is coming. But what the Republican Congress giveth it taketh away. In multiples. Bush will try to look good with a national announcement but in the back room his party will try to nullify it--and more. Why should anyone take these jokers seriously, other than as criminals?