FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Patient Front Groups Loot Medicare Dollars for Big Pharma

by MARTHA ROSENBERG

The Obama administration is finally addressing the expensive, dangerous and usually unnecessary psychiatric drugs that are footed by taxpayers in federal entitlement programs. It has proposed that insurers may limit Medicare coverage of certain classes of drugs that include Wellbutrin, Paxil and Prozac for depression and Abilify and Seroquel for schizophrenia.

How expensive are these drugs? 100 middle dose pills of the widely marketed Abilify cost as much as $1,644. 100 pills of Geodon are $958, Invega, $1,789, Risperdal, $953, Seroquel, $2,000 and Zyprexa, $1,680, if the brand name drugs are used, which drug company  lobbyists hope. Thanks to their lobbying, insurers have to pay “all or substantially all” of such depression and schizophrenia drug costs because the drugs enjoy “protected status” in the Medicare program. Such protected pills account for as much as 33 percent of total outpatient drug spending under Part D of Medicare, says the New York Times.

Not surprisingly, Big Pharma and its patient front groups are livid that the heisting of US taxpayers dollars could be curtailed. Abilify alone has earned over $4 billion a year! “The proposal undermines a key protection for some of the sickest, most vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries,” said Andrew Sperling, a lobbyist at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) which is fighting the Obama proposal.

As much as 75 percent of NAMI’s donations come from drug companies says the New York Times and it has been investigated by Congress. Portraying itself as “patients,” NAMI also successfully fights states’ efforts to limit use of the most pricey Medicaid psychiatric drugs, in parallel lobbying. “Some of these medicines routinely top the list of the most expensive drugs that states buy for their poorest patients,” says the Times. NAMI is “hugely influential in many state capitols,” it adds.

The heart of Big Pharma and NAMI lobbying is making sure expensive drugs are on Medicare and Medicaid formularies and that doctors prescribe them first–before and instead of lower priced drugs. The expensive-drugs-first marketing is couched as “patient choice” or another “treatment option” by Pharma lobbyists as if there’s no difference between a $45 prescription and $450 prescription. Antipsychotic drugs work in different ways in the body explains Sperling and “You get much better outcomes when a doctor can work with patients to figure out which medications will work best for them.” Ka-ching.

The problem is newer, more expensive drugs are not necessarily better than older, less expensive drugs and they are often more dangerous. One chilling example is an estimated 15,000 elderly people die in nursing homes a year from inappropriately given antipsychotic medications, according to FDA drug reviewer David Graham, MD.  Pharma is aware of the profiteering and “laughing all the way to the bank,” Graham speculated.

Antipsychotics like Seroquel carry warnings that they cause death in elderly people who have dementia but are nevertheless in wide use in many geriatric, federally-supported facilities. So much for NAMI’s concern for “the sickest, most vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries.”

NAMI is not the only group to play on the public’s heart strings to keep drug revenues flowing. Pharma’s aggressive opioid lobby says patients with legitimate pain will suffer if drugs like Oxycontin, killing 17,000 Americans a year, are regulated. Similarly, if Abilify and Seroquel are regulated within Medicare, someone will suffer–Big Pharma.

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

 

 

 

 

 

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 08, 2016
John W. Whitehead
Power to the People: John Lennon’s Legacy Lives On
Mike Whitney
Rolling Back the Empire: Washington’s Proxy-Army Faces Decisive Defeat in Aleppo
Ellen Brown
“We’ll Look at Everything:” More Thoughts on Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan
John Stauber
The Rise and Fall of Obamacare: Will the Inside Story Ever be Told?
Ted Rall
Ameri-Splaining
Michael J. Sainato
Mainstream Media Continues Absolving Itself From Clinton, Trump Election Failures
Ralph Nader – Mark Green
Divest or Face Impeachment: an Open Letter to Donald Trump
Gareth Porter
US Airstrikes on Syrian Troops: Report Data Undermine Claim of “Mistake”
Martha Burke
What Trumponomics Means for Women
Ramzy Baroud
Fatah, Hold Your Applause: Palestinian Body Politic Rotten to the Core
Steve Horn
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General Pick, Introduced First Bill Exempting Fracking from Drinking Water Rules
Joe Ware
The Big Shift: Why Banks Need to Stop Investing Our Money Into Fossil Fuels
Juliana Barnet
On the Ground at Standing Rock
Franklin Lamb
Aleppo Update: An Inspiring Return to the Bombed Out National Museum
Steve Kelly
Hidden Harmony: on the Perfection of Forests
December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba After Fidel
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewal of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail