Health & Medical Political

Through a Revolving Door, Smiling

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson is calling it quits. He’s hired two full-time attorneys to “sift through job offers.”

Such billets will be bounteous. If there is truth in the adage, “What comes around, goes around,” the 63-year-old former Wisconsin governor has ahead of him the most golden of years.

Bush Canadian Drugs Cartoon

He played the game well.

The minute Thompson took the reins, HHS mutated into a drug industry toady.

Thompson’s FDA flatly refused to certify the safety of Canadian drugs. This helped stop those too poor to afford US prices – the highest in the world – from buying their medicine for considerably less north of the border.

The FDA then spent millions in misinformation campaigns targeting legitimate Canadian pharmacies. They warned of “counterfeit, mislabeled, untested” substances,” scolding “it’s not worth risking your health.”

That, coupled with lax oversight of prescription drugs – Vioxx is the latest example -caused thousands of US deaths* but added tens of billions of dollars to Pharma’s bottom line.

Thompson’s self-acclaimed crowning achievement, the Medicare Drug Bill, made a hugely favorable impression with future employers at pharmaceutical, insurance, and healthcare corporation by

  • Prohibiting the government from reducing drug costs by negotiating bulk rates, a $139 billion gift to Big Pharma over the next eight years
  • Giving $46 billion in outright subsidies to the insurance industry
  • Allowing drug card companies to change their prices weekly while seniors must wait a year to change cards, and most important
  • Ridding the country of the elusive but pesky “Medicare Problem” by fatally wounding Medicare, putting seniors in the hands of fat cat HMOs who will cherry-pick the healthiest of us, returning again and again to the trough demanding more subsidies by threatening to stop benefits.

Medicare will surely die on this new course, and that’s the whole idea. It will be the death of a thousand cuts.

CUT #17 – Rising drug costs have wiped out any savings that might have resulted from the current discount card program. In 2003, Pharma raised prices on popular drugs 8 times the rate of inflation. Simply because they could.

CUT #143 – Under the new Medicare Bill, $71 billion goes to employers who promise that retiree drug benefits provide at least the standard Medicare benefit. This encourages industry to take the money while slashing benefits for one-third of all retirees with employer-sponsored drug coverage.

CUT #329 – In January 2006, when the new bill goes into effect, most seniors will pay $3,600 out of pocket before the drug benefit kicks in. Many with lower drug costs actually will pay more than they do now.

CUT #460 – Beginning in 2006, we will not be able to buy “Medigap” insurance to help cover out-of-pocket costs.

CUT #461 – Seniors’ out-of-pocket cost will increase from a projected average of 8.8 percent in 2006 to 12.3 in 2013.

CUT #630 – The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services project Medicare’s out-of-pocket costs will eventually consume more than half of the average Social Security check.

CUT #702 – Although HHS calls the new Part D (for drug) voluntary, seniors will be penalized if we do not sign up immediately. Out-of-pocket costs will increase 1 percent for every month we delay, and remain higher forever.

DO YOU HAVE A $$JOB FOR HIM?

If you’re thinking that the new Medicare Bill gives the insurance, healthcare, and drug industries everything while we seniors just get screwed, maybe it’s because neither you nor I can offer Thompson a multi-million dollar job.

Thompson follows his former top Medicare official Tom Scully into the private sector. Scully, who should be behind bars after lying to Congress and threatening five times to fire a Medicare actuary if he revealed the bill’s true cost, is instead today in fat city lobbying for drug companies.

Insider Michael Leavitt is nominated to replace Thompson. Now EPA chief, Leavitt maintains an investment of $25 million in a family health insurance firm.

Also carrying on the tradition is Rep. Billy Tauzin, principal author of the Medicare drug bill, who has just take the job as head of Big Pharma, the chief lobby for big drug companies. He himself lobbied for the $2+ million job while still in Congress.

A political system so indebted to the drug and insurance industries for gazillions in legalized bribes certainly wouldn’t want an outsider in the job. Someone like that might, if only by accident, do something good for seniors.

*The Institute of Medicine estimates 18,000 unnecessary US deaths every year for lack of health insurance. On Thompson’s watch, five million more Americans became uninsured, now totally 45 million. According to the Detroit News, the United States loses the equivalent of $65 billion to $130 billion annually as a result of poor health and early deaths of uninsured adults.

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