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Medicare drug benefit: More harm than good

Kirk Caraway

How many of you out there would walk into a car dealership and demand to pay sticker price for a vehicle?

For those who said no, congratulations. You have proven to have more business acumen than Congress and the Bush Administration put together.

Our new year kicked off the start of the new Medicare drug benefit plan, what may be the biggest boondoggle in American history.

When this entitlement program was rammed through Congress in the middle of the night, its cost was estimated at $400 billion over 10 years. Soon after passage, we learned that information was withheld from members of Congress that put the cost at $534 billion. Two years later, before even one senior received any benefit, the cost has ballooned to between $724 billion (administration estimate) and $1.2 trillion (congressional estimate). Wanna bet which figure proves to be closer to the truth?And Congress didn’t even bother to come up with a way to pay for it, other than adding it to the deficit for our children and grandchildren to pay.

And what do seniors get for all of this? A drug program that in many instances isn’t any cheaper than buying prescriptions at Costco.

Why so high? Because, unlike how the Department of Veterans Affairs achieves lower drug prices for vets, the new Medicare drug bill specifically prohibited negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Congress, suckers for the sticker price. I bet car dealers would love to have similar legislation to forbid bargaining of the retail price. But alas, they don’t have the pull of Big Pharma.

Instead of pouring out a trillion tax dollars, we could most likely provide more benefit by just allowing Medicare to negotiate quantity discounts from the drug companies, and at little or no cost to taxpayers.

I’ve seen their arguments for this no-negotiation stance. They think it’s unfair to the drug companies to use the potential buying power of Medicare to drive down prices. What’s wrong with that? Using size to get a good price is as American as Wal-Mart. Sorry, but their argument just doesn’t make sense. And when something doesn’t make sense in Washington, you can bet someone has their hands in the cookie jar.

It would be easy to blame this on George W. Bush and the Republicans, but the fact is many Democrats also signed onto this deal, making it a bipartisan boondoggle.

But the real blame lies with me. And you. And all those other voters out there who don’t hold our representatives accountable for dishing out our money to their favored interests. We are all guilty of letting Congress get away with the “couple of billion here, couple of billion there” method of handling our tax money.

Would we allow our local leaders to issue no-bid contracts to firms that give them campaign donations? I’d hope not.

Since Congress does its business on the other side of the country, and they deal with trillions of dollars of taxpayer money, we let them off for the occasional pork and boondoggle.

It’s time for that to stop. We need to treat them like the crack addicts they have become, zero tolerance, holding their feet to the fire for every instance when they act against our best interests.

And they can start by repealing this drug bill and replacing it with something that makes sense.

n Kirk Caraway is Internet editor of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at kcaraway@nevada appeal.com, or comment online at nevadaappeal.com.