Prescription for hardship

President Bush has repeatedly refused to acknowledge that a prescription drug crisis exists. He has consistently vetoed any federal legislation that attempts meaningful reform of the high cost of drugs.

Bush has opposed bipartisan legislation that would allow U.S. citizens to buy cheaper medicines from Canada and other industrialized countries. The president justifies his actions by claiming that imported drugs are not safe, even though many U.S. drug companies manufacture their products overseas, where labor costs are lower.

While I’m flattered that the president is so concerned with our welfare, I fear that his judgment may be clouded by all that campaign money from the pharmaceutical industry. Maybe someone should explain to him that Canadians are nice people who speak English and have clean restrooms.

Senior citizens and the uninsured take the biggest hit. On average, Medicare recipients spend 17 percent of their incomes on prescription drugs in order to continue living. Many older Americans on fixed incomes skip their medications for a few days a month. Some eat dog food in order to afford medications.

Bush’s prescription drug plan is almost identical to discount cards now available through AARP, Reader’s Digest and drug store chains. These plans are akin to a punch card from a coffee house that awards a free cup of coffee once a month.

Insurance companies and government entities have volume-buying power. They can negotiate lower drug prices. People without medical insurance pay on average 50 percent more for prescriptions.

The drug companies claim that price increases are unavoidable because they spend a lot of money on research and development. However, during the last decade the top 10 drug companies have recorded record profits, much of which finds its way into political campaign funds.

Even though various companies market similar kinds of drugs, there is little evidence of competitive pricing, and many drugs are marketed overseas by U.S. companies at substantially lower prices.

The drug industry coordinates its efforts through a trade association called PhRMA, which employs a Washington, D.C.-based public-relations firm, Bonner & Associates. Bonner & Associates in turn sponsors a shadow organization called the Consumer Alliance. Its main purpose is to thwart any legislation that would force drug companies to actually compete with each other. In fact, some states actually have laws forbidding their governments from negotiating on drug prices. (I’m not making this up.)

As my grandmother used to say, "If you don’t guard the pantry, the rats will clean it out."