A bunch of rotten fruit

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Over the last six years, the Bush Administration and its allies have made a habit of using faulty information and shady tactics to push through their legislative and policy priorities. The HME industry experienced this firsthand when Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., in the dead of night, slipped an 18-month cap on oxygen reimbursement into the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. Fortunately, industry leaders, led by Invacare and Apria, while not able to eliminate the cap, increased it to a manageable 36 months.
Now the Bush leaguers are at it again. Following their resounding victory at the polls in November, Democrats are pushing a bill to require the government to use its purchasing power to negotiate better drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries. You would think Republicans might be willing to take a closer look at this proposal. Not so. They say negotiating drug prices is akin to government price setting and gets in the way of the free market. I wonder what they call competitive bidding for DME.
The Republicans have an ally in the Bush-friendly Congressional Budget Office, which says negotiating drug prices won't save the government money. Some beg to differ. The Washington Post, for example, reported that the VA receives an automatic 24% discount on average wholesale prices of medications. Might Medicare not reap a similar savings by negotiating drug prices?
No. Comparing what the VA pays for drugs to what Medicare pays is apples to oranges, said CMS Administrator Mark McClellan. That's funny: CMS doesn't mind referencing discounted VA pricing to justify cutting DME reimbursement. To further bolster their argument, Republicans say that negotiating drug prices would decrease drug choice, and, don't you know, beneficiaries want a wide range of drug choice. What about DME? Don't beneficiaries want a wide range of providers to choose from, and won't competitive bidding reduce that choice?
Republicans-- indebted to the largesse of pharmaceutical companies and probably fearing the wrath of Vice President Dick Cheney (he might invite them to go bird hunting)--have threatened to filibuster efforts to negotiate drug pricing.
Talk about lying out of both sides of your month. If you ever had any doubt about what the HME industry is up against in its efforts to convince lawmakers and bureaucrats that it provides a patient preferred, cost-effective service, now you know: A bunch of rotten fruit.