December 14, 2012
The Roanoke Times: http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/commentary/wb/317917
By Sandra A. Cook
Cook is the chairperson of Virginia Organizing, a non-partisan statewide grassroots organization that brings people together for a more just Virginia.
Everywhere we turn, there is conflicting economic news. We've been hearing that going off the fiscal cliff could lead to a recession, but many believe that recession is better than a detrimental deal that is too difficult to fix in the partisan political climate we find ourselves.
We hear that competition is good for our economy and helps keep prices low, but The Washington Post recently reported that competition in health care could make it more expensive and found that states with less competition in health care kept costs lower over time.
What do we know? We know that reform has to happen and it has to be comprehensive. We know that the current law says that $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to federal spending will go into effect starting in 2013 and that unless Congress acts by the end of thus year, we will have to endure these cuts. We also know that several tax credits will expire at the end of the year, including the payroll tax cut and the Bush tax cuts, including those that favor the wealthiest two percent of earners.
Congress and the White House are reportedly working on a deal to avoid the drastic spending cuts that are likely to hurt those who are already struggling. The negotiations offer a clear picture into our options.
We can have prosperity for all or more for millionaires while the rest of America struggles to get by.
If we examine the possible cuts that are being discussed, we can see that real people will suffer if some cuts go through. If we cut Medicare and Medicaid, people will lose access to medications for diseases like cancer, diabetes and asthma. People could lose access to nursing home care or end-of-life care that values comfort and dignity in the dying process.
There is no arguing that health care costs have gotten out of control. If Congress is serious about making cuts to those costs, there is another alternative that will not harm people receiving Medicaid and Medicare.
We could negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical companies.
Pharmaceutical companies charge Americans more for prescriptions than any other industrialized nation.
Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries pay more for medications than veterans or National Indian Health Service clients because Medicaid and Medicare do not negotiate prices for prescriptions.
Our government could save $261 million a year by negotiating drug prices for Medicaid and $14 billion per year for Medicare, according to the Health and Human Services inspector general.
You might be wondering why you have not heard about these potential savings. The pharmaceutical companies spent $14.7million in campaign contributions in 2012 and $153 million on lobbying Congress in 2011.
The industry employs nearly two lobbyists for every one member of Congress. The pharmaceutical companies are trying to protect the $43 billion in 2011 profits that just the top 10 companies raked in. Is it any shock that the industry is nicknamed "Big Pharma"?
While we are negotiating and asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share, let's also ask that pharmaceutical companies put people before profits. Congress will negotiate some cuts, and those cuts should come from saving money, not reducing services and hurting people in the process.
The decision we have to make is about priorities and values, which is more than simple profit margin considerations. I believe that all people matter and that the good of the nation should outweigh the powerful self-interest of the very few. Congress needs to step up and show us who they think matters. Will our leaders stand up for everyone or just big corporations and the wealthiest few?