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Daley View: WHY IS A RAVEN LIKE A WRITING DESK? and Other Musings

I was in the Hart Senate Office Building for a meeting with Senator Manchin’s staff that ended around 2:30 PM. 82655_600Normally I would have bolted for the door to get fresh air, but I was starving. I went into the basement to the American Grill and was putting mustard on my cheeseburger when the shooting started outside the building. They locked us in.

“Gunshots have been reported on Capitol Hill requiring staff in all Senate office buildings to immediately shelter in place. Close, lock and stay away from external doors and windows. Take annunciators, emergency supply kits and escape hoods; and move to your office’s assigned shelter-in-place location or the innermost part of the office away from external doors or windows.”

Reports of just what happened are still being pieced together, but apparently a woman suffering through her own mental illness tried to ram through security at the Executive Office Building next to the White House. When she failed, she led the police on a chase that ended just outside the Heart Building. She had a child in the car with her. The woman was shot and has died.

She was unarmed. The police aren’t even being paid. Read more

Bad Medicine Report Details Influence of Pharma in DC Budget Failure

Released to the Press

September 25, 2013

 

New Report Analyzes Interest Group Influence in Blocking Proposed Cost Saving Measures in Medicare

Report Finds Influence of Pharmaceutical Industry as Major Impasse to Common Sense Budget Fixes

Congress has failed to act on a commonsense, good-government approach to controlling health care costs. The significant resources the pharmaceutical industry has put toward influence and access has rendered Congress unable to act in the public interest.

Bad Medicine Report.image

 

Bad Medicine: Pharmaceuticals’ Prescription for Profits Over People, released by the Alliance for a Just Society details the overwhelming influence of Big PhRMA on congressional outcomes and finds that the imbalance created by industry spending harms both the interest of the American people and our democratic process.

Read more

Work, Productivity, Play and Compensation in America

Americans work longer and harder than our peers in almost every industrial nation.

On average Americans are working 1800 hours per year, beating out Germany, France, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Spain, United Kingdom, Australia and Finland. http://blogs.salleurl.edu/emprendedores/files/2011/02/work.jpgAccording to The International Labour Organization American released a report stating that “workers in the United States on average produce $63,885 of wealth annually; compared to other industrialized countries of Europe, only Norway’s workers produce more wealth per hour ($37.99 in U.S. dollars) than do American workers ($35.63.)” Read more

The Great Big PhRMA Medicare Heist

Part 1: Rigging the System is Profitable

 

While millions of Americans struggle to pay for their prescription medication, big pharmaceutical companies reap $600 billion in annual profits.  $116 million is spent on direct lobbying, and with a 77,500% return, the investment certainly pays off.  Profits have been bolstered by pharmaceutical companies’ myriad of policy wins.  A well-funded barrage from lobbyists has created patent protections, limiting competition from lower-cost drug options, and, not surprisingly, price protections built into federal policies.  By comparison, when you look at the return of individual investors, multinationals, and the oil industry, we see a stark contrast:

 

The Amazing ROI of Corporate Lobbying
by JLMC.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

 

 

Senior citizens–without blue chip stocks, without millions in expendable liquidity for political campaign contributions–average a meager salary of $22,000. The influence of money has certainly trumped the voices of the citizenry in the halls of Congress. Just look at the recent collapse of a federal gun violence bill and the influence of the gun owner lobby over the cries of the general public.

An income of $22,000 a year is hardly a fighting chance against the lobbying power of Big Pharma.  Many seniors struggle to pay for food, rent, and heat, let alone afford the sticker price on their medicines.  Drug companies, meanwhile, can spend billions in campaign contributions, PR, and advertising to ensure that their voices are heard over those of ordinary Americans.

And it certainly has been. The industry owns the story being told in Washington DC and the mainstream media.  (We tell a different version at hookedonpharma.com)

The tale that big drug companies have successfully spun is one of despair, hardship, and weak patent laws that no longer serve to protect the financial gains of private enterprise.  It runs like this: pharmaceutical companies are American institutions.  They produce life-saving drugs.  This innovation takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money.  Prices are set where they are for a reason, and people who use these drugs should pay for them.  Generic manufacturers are already able to take away name-brand profits when patents run out.  If you take away the “free market” structure of programs like Medicare Part D, pharmaceutical companies will collapse.  It is in the nation’s best interest to leave price controls in place to preserve a “life-saving” American institution.

The story is horribly fatalistic, and geared to churn the better nature in all of us.  And when told by pharmaceutical industry lobbyists who outnumber members of Congress 2:1, the narrative has taken parable status in recent years.  By targeting hundreds of millions of dollars on key members and committees, pharmaceutical companies have gotten their way in the majority of almost 1500 bills in the past eight years.

Medicare Part D is no exception.

Congress passed Medicare Part D, a prescription drug “benefit” program for seniors, in 2003.  This may initially sound like a blessing for seniors, but, among other pitfalls, the bill prevented Congress from negotiating drug prices under Medicare.  Instead of ensuring that Medicare Insetparticipants can afford prescription medication, the legislation made certain that pharmaceutical companies could maximize profits.  Immediately following the passage of the legislation that saw $116 million in lobbyist strong-arming, the same companies increased prescription prices and saw profits skyrocket.  America’s seniors are footing that bill in part through the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole,” a period when Medicare stops paying for prescriptions and the individual must pick up the “market-rate price” for their medicines.

The so-called free-market drumbeaters would have the country believe that any negotiation amounts to government intervention in the market. What they are saying is that they don’t want American citizens and taxpayers to be able to negotiate a better contract with the pharmaceutical industry.

They have created a Free Market Red Herring in the process.

 

 

 

 

 

Part 2: The Free Market Red Herring

MedicarePartDprofits

When in doubt the opposition cries free market foul play. Part D was engineered and pushed through by companies, not American taxpayers. The clause against allowing negotiated prices was the one piece that held higher-than-market prices in place, thereby guaranteeing a direct flow of taxpayer dollars into the profit columns of the industry.

What business would accept contracts term like these? “I am offering you a horrible deal, ensuring you lose on every transaction. You’ll take it and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

None.

So now what?

Screaming “monopoly” doesn’t work here: patent holders are conveniently protected against anti-trust proceedings.  And technically, there are a lot of pharmaceutical and biotech companies throughout the country so consolidation can’t be used as a factor either.  But when competitors collude to rig a piece of legislation so that there is no recourse or correction, the nation has a problem.  Or so they would have the nation believe.

The fact is, there are commonsense solutions Congress can enact right now, and ones that will save benefits for seniors, cut costs for taxpayers, and do little to hurt the profits of Big Pharma, despite their rhetoric.

Under the Medicare Drug Savings Act introduced by Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia, Medicare could save $140 billion over 10 years. Some analysts estimate that the nation would recover between 2% and 7% of the subsidized profits if Congress required drug-pricing negotiations in Medicare.

Pharmaceutical profits jumped nearly overnight after Medicare Part D was enacted in 2006.  And since 2005, big drug companies have seen an almost 50% increase in profits.  Big Pharma has successfully scared the public into believing their profits are necessary for the common good.  Yet, while profits continue to skyrocket, and drug prices have significantly outpaced inflation, Big Pharma drug innovation is on the decline.  In fact, studies indicate that taxpayers, not pharmaceutical companies, are funding most of the research leading to major medical breakthroughs.  Sounds like Americans can afford to miss out on the same allergy medicine in a different color and another t.v. commercial.  But apparently $552 billion in remaining profits and a 50% tax write off for research and development expenses are just not enough to motivate someone to help sick people.

Instead of being concerned with Big Pharma profit margins, Congress needs to ensure that seniors receiving Medicare get the best quality and most affordable healthcare they can receive. Medicare Part D is not a comprehensive solution, but is certainly a bad policy and one that was enacted under the collective boot of 1,100 Big Pharma lobbyists, constructed to pad the pockets of the drug industry. It’s time to make a change.  Congress can and should make Medicare drug coverage work for people, not Pharma.

 

 

Part 3: Setting People-First Policy Priorities

Bad Prescription

Admittedly, funding healthcare requires prioritizing.  But the priorities are simple.  Congress can prioritize the senior, who needs prescription medication to survive.  Congress can at the same time prioritize taxpayers, saving them billions.  Or, Congress can prioritize the big pharmaceutical companies:  companies that spend more paying lawsuit settlements and penalties than they stand to lose in profits if Congress allowed Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

This system of negotiations is not just an abstract concept with theoretical implications.  Its success has been shown in numerous organizations and other countries.  For example, the Veteran’s Administration (which negotiates prices with pharmaceuticals) is able to obtain the top 10 drugs covered by the plan at a price 48% lower (on average) than Medicare.  Other wealthy nations that negotiate pharmaceutical prices pay 150% to 300% less than Medicare.

It seems clear that Congress, by refusing to save seniors and the average American taxpayer money, worries more about profits than the people it was elected to represent.

The Alliance for a Just Society affiliates met in Washington, D.C. to address their Congressional leaders in the Senate and drive home the need for senior-first policies and to prioritize freeing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.  To bolster the voices of these delegates representing 20 states, the Alliance delivered a national petition, signed by 350 organizations, dozens of legislators, and nearly 8,000 Americans, to the Senate.  The simple demand: allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. Unfortunately, the bill introduced by Senator Rockefeller has yet to make it past congressional committee, where many good bills go to die.  This is where Americans should renew their efforts: get the bill out of committee, and give the Senate a chance to vote.

Republicans and Democrats may not agree on much, but both sides of the aisle can agree that a good government considers the needs of its citizens.  A good government allows individuals to thrive.  So many seniors have worked the majority of their lives to provide for themselves, their family, and the prosperity of the nation.  Now is not the time to turn our backs on them and to profit off their illnesses. It is time to make it possible for all Americans to retire with dignity.

 

 

 

 

Daley’s View: Why We Needed the Public Option Then…

…and Why We Need It Now

 

Remember the big debate in the Congress about whether or not the ACA needed to create a public option to private insurance in order to make the new exchanges be competitive and serve all consumers. This proposal was defeated and left to die pretty much without a whimper.

Now we are just beginning to get a look at the participation of insurance companies in the new exchanges and are seeing why the public option was so important.

One of the supposed benefits of these exchanges is that there will be lots of competition among private insurance companies and a public option was simply unnecessary. Read more

The Times They Are A Changin…

But Racism Stays the Same

There is no way to put a good face on it. The U.S. Supreme Court cut the guts out of the 1965 Voter Rights Act, one of the seminal achievements of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s.

True, they didn’t throw it out entirely. They just made it useless. They eliminated the formulas that the U.S. Justice Department employed to determine where the Act should apply.

The ruling was 5 to 4, with the reactionary wing winning the day. Read more

Montana Without Senator Max Baucus

 

How do we want to handle his replacement?

 

Max Baucus assumed the position of US Senator from Montana on December 15th 1978. For 35 years he has been making decisions that affect the lives of not only people from Montana, not only people from the United States, but people from around the world.  The Senator has made many friends, to be clear on this issue he has grown quite influential during his tenure. But he made just as many enemies with his votes. For progressives in Montana, his tenure has been, as they say, a mixed bag.

Now he is leaving the Senate. Read more

Austerity versus Dignity for Senior Citizens: A Case for Strengthening Medicare

It seems we keep referencing Bill Daley’s recent post Has The Budget Crisis Du Jour Got You Down?. Maybe that’s because it gives you have a pretty good sense of the impending debt lid crisis thatUSA-Drugs is due to hit in July, and that we need to be ready to push back against efforts to cut Medicare and Medicaid as the debate over the budget deficit heats back up.

Frankly, we need to move austerity off the table. Read more

Daley’s View: A Trillion Here, A Trillion There

…And Pretty Soon it Adds Up to UnemploymentBill

 

Well the new jobs numbers are out this Friday and the results are a paltry 88,000 new jobs in March. Private employment provided a mere 95,000 new jobs while federal cuts costing 14,000 jobs. There were offsets by slight increases in state employment, but overall government employment fell a total of 7000 jobs.

What could possibly be causing this?

Economists that actually study the economy rather than those who craft  right wing talking points have been telling us that now is the worst possible time to be reducing government spending. But the entire Federal leadership has been in the spell of an austerity frenzy nonetheless. Remember the “Super Committee” and the caps.? These policies will reduce Federal spending $1.5 Trillion by 2020.

This year, stumped for a better idea, Congress began an automatic “sequester” that cuts another $1.2 Trillion starting March 1st. Jobless claims jumped immediately in March.

And there is more to come. Over time, the “sequester” will pull 750,000 jobs out of the economy according to the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

When the new jobs numbers were announced the conservative pundits were quick to pounce: “Our plan to keep cutting jobs is good for the economy. The real culprit here is the Affordable Care Act.” Yep, the ACA is to blame, so we have to repeal it – thereby pulling another pile of jobs out of the economy.

Some days I want to go episodic and stand on a street corner yelling “ARE YOU CRAZY?” (Only a few of my neighbors would notice and are unlikely to be surprised. So I’ll skip it.)

But I will beg progressive advocates to continue to ask our political leadership a simple question: “Why not reduce the deficits by growing the economy?” Why not start with President Obama’s 2013 Budget?

 

To the President’s credit, his recently released budget does include a $350 billion jobs program and other investments in education, job training, infrastructure, and research. But over time it cuts another trillion plus out of the public funding for many important things including Social Security, Medicare and other domestic spending. Overall there are some $900 billion in cuts. The President’s budget also increases taxes by $600 billion.

Compare this budget to what is being proposed in the U.S. House. This budget cuts nearly $6 trillion out of spending and also lowers taxes. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 66% of the cuts will affect people with low or moderate incomes.

These are the parameters for the recovery of jobs in the economy – cut either another trillion or cut another six trillion. How will either of these approaches lead to a thriving economy and jobs for the unemployed?

Every time they get anything done they do more harm. To raise the debt lid they cut a trillion. To avoid the fiscal cliff they cut another trillion. Then they sequestered. Now we are looking at a “grand bargain,” another debt lid crisis, tax reform…

 

whitehouse.gov/issues/sequester/interactive-map