FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Patient Front Groups Loot Medicare Dollars for Big Pharma

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).

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

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).

September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
Kenn Orphan
The Power of Language in the Anthropocene
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
Puerto Rico’s Unnatural Disaster Rolls on Into Year Two
Rajan Menon
Yemen’s Descent Into Hell: a Saudi-American War of Terror
Russell Mokhiber
Nick Brana Says Dems Will Again Deny Sanders Presidential Nomination
Nicholas Levis
Three Lessons of Occupy Wall Street, With a Fair Dose of Memory
Steve Martinot
The Constitutionality of Homeless Encampments
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The Aftershocks of the Economic Collapse Are Still Being Felt
Jesse Jackson
By Enforcing Climate Change Denial, Trump Puts Us All in Peril
George Wuerthner
Coyote Killing is Counter Productive
Mel Gurtov
On Dealing with China
Dean Baker
How to Reduce Corruption in Medicine: Remove the Money
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail