As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Deal Of The Century

So Max Baucus will reveal his long-awaited wet kiss of a bill tomorrow, with subsequent votes in committee in the coming week. We've already seen an outline of it, so we know that it would still cripple people financially who have the temerity to get sick, it would criminalize people who do not buy inadequate private coverage from the insurance industry, it would incentivize employers to offer crappy coverage and discriminate in hiring against people who have no coverage from a family member, and it would not include a public insurance option to compete with private plans. It won't even include a trigger, because the original trigger backer, Olympia Snowe, has decreed that it's a dead letter. Those weak state-based co-ops designed to allow nonprofits like Blue Cross, some of which control 90% of the insurance market, to access billions in government seed money, will be as close as we get in the Finance Committee to a public option. Seemingly, the only reason for the death of the trigger is that Susan Collins said they might lead to a (horrors!) public option, and Snowe probably wants her along as cover for a final bill.

You can pretty much tell what a steaming pile of garbage the Baucus bill would be by the fact that the drugmakers are going all in to support it.

The drug industry’s trade group plans to roll out a series of television advertisements in coming weeks specifically to support Senator Max Baucus’s health care overhaul proposal, according to an industry official involved in the planning.

The move would be a follow-up to the deal that drug makers struck in June with Mr. Baucus and the White House. Under that pact, the industry agreed to various givebacks and discounts meant to reduce the nation’s pharmaceutical spending by $80 billion over 10 years.

Shortly after striking that agreement, the trade group — the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA — also set aside $150 million for advertising to support health care legislation.

President Obama has cited the deal with the group as signifying a new era of cooperation. But some critics say the advertising fund could be wielded against alternative approaches to health care legislation. Some House Democrats, including Henry A. Waxman of California, are seeking drug industry givebacks not covered in the deal with Mr. Baucus and the White House.

You rarely see bribes like this spelled out so succinctly and directly. $150 million is certainly more money than has been spent on health care advertising to date. And it's all going toward the Baucus plan, based on a quid pro quo agreement. Other committee chairs like Henry Waxman want to find more savings that what Big Pharma agreed to by letting the government to bargain for lower drug prices, like many other industrialized nations. But Baucus dutifully abided by the deal, and so his plan will get the ad backing. Matt Taibbi further explains.

The $150 million it committed to support Obama’s bill is now being rolled out in pro-reform ads, which are being aired mostly in the districts of freshman congressmen. The ads are cheesy, half-hearted tripe blandly supporting the weak-as-fuck remnants of Obama’s health care plan, an example being this “Eight Ways Health Reform Matters To You” ad that salutes the end of coverage denials for those with pre-existing conditions.

Now we’re also seeing pressure from a group of freshmen and Blue Dogs, who have composed a letter to a quartet of House Committee chairs requesting that the Waxman language be removed from the health care bill and replaced with the PhRMA language, which happens to be the language the White House is pushing and which will appear in the Baucus bill in the Senate. The pro-PhRMA language retains the preposterous government subsidy to the pharmaceutical industry in the form of laws banning Medicare from negotiating market rates. It is completely useless and of no possible social benefit to anyone except pharmaceutical companies, but this group still managed to get 60 people to sign this bill.

What does this letter say? Does it argue that the PhRMA language is better for America than the Waxman language? Does it say it will cost taxpayers less and provide cheaper drugs to more people? Hilariously, no. What it says is that this PhRMA language, while worse than the Waxman language, is not quite so bad as you think (it doesn’t save as much as the Waxman language, but it still has a 50 percent price reduction, which isn’t terrible!). Moreover, the letter says, substituting this language will help the bill get passed! Here’s the actual language, addressed primarily to Waxman:

“Your efforts to remove this onerous burden on Medicare beneficiaries… are to be greatly commended. However the commitment by President Obama and the AARP to support legislation that would provide a 50 percent reduction is a dramatic step forward in helping fill the doughnut hole. Equally important, it moves us toward our goal of health care legislation.”

In other words, your attempt to put in a real reform is cool and all, but PhRMA has us by the balls, so help us out.

At the same time, the drug industry is employing scumbag from way back Tony Coelho, who may be single-handedly responsible for Democratic silence in the face of the decimation of American manufacturing in the 1970s and 1980s, to attack comparative effectiveness research, another part of the Obama plan. I guess there's nothing two-way about that loyalty.

While we were going back and forth on a public option, this backroom deal to fund future Democratic campaigns (I don't believe for a second that the $150 million will be spent now, but on protecting conservative Democratic incumbents who protected drug industry profits next year) in exchange for backing off a huge subsidy to giant corporations was put into motion. Baucus' delay actually may have crimped this and forced Big Pharma to start spending now. With industry out in front, however, a bill will probably pass.

Just don't read it so closely.

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