• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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).

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
May 24, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire
Melvin Goodman
The Dangerous Demise of Disarmament
Jeffrey St. Clair
“The Army Ain’t No Place for a Black Man:” How the Wolf Got Caged
Richard Moser
War is War on Mother Earth
Andrew Levine
The (Small-d) Democrat’s Dilemma
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Way: Blaming Dead Pilots
Rev. William Alberts
Gaslighters of God
Phyllis Bennis
The Amputation Crisis in Gaza: a US-Funded Atrocity
David Rosen
21st Century Conglomerate Trusts 
Jonathan Latham
As a GMO Stunt, Professor Tasted a Pesticide and Gave It to Students
Binoy Kampmark
The Espionage Act and Julian Assange
Kathy Deacon
Liberals Fall Into Line: a Recurring Phenomenon
Jill Richardson
The Disparity Behind Anti-Abortion Laws
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Chelsea Manning is Showing Us What Real Resistance Looks Like
Zhivko Illeieff
Russiagate and the Dry Rot in American Journalism
Norman Solomon
Will Biden’s Dog Whistles for Racism Catch Up with Him?
Yanis Varoufakis
The Left Refuses to Get Its Act Together in the Face of Neofascism
Lawrence Davidson
Senator Schumer’s Divine Mission
Thomas Knapp
War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea
Renee Parsons
Dump Bolton before He Starts the Next War
Yves Engler
Canada’s Meddling in Venezuela
Katie Singer
Controlling 5G: A Course in Obstacles
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Beauty of Trees
Jesse Jackson
Extremist Laws, Like Alabama’s, Will Hit Poor Women the Hardest
Andrew Bacevich
The “Forever Wars” Enshrined
Ron Jacobs
Another One Moves On: Roz Payne, Presente!
Christopher Brauchli
The Offal Office
Daniel Falcone
Where the ‘Democratic Left’ Goes to Die: Staten Island NYC and the Forgotten Primaries   
Julia Paley
Life After Deportation
Sarah Anderson
America Needs a Long-Term Care Program for Seniors
Seiji Yamada – John Witeck
Stop U.S. Funding for Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines
Shane Doyle, A.J. Not Afraid and Adrian Bird, Jr.
The Crazy Mountains Deserve Preservation
Charlie Nash
Will Generation Z Introduce a Wizard Renaissance?
Ron Ridenour
Denmark Peace-Justice Conference Based on Activism in Many Countries
Douglas Bevington
Why California’s Costly (and Destructive) Logging Plan for Wildfires Will Fail
Gary Leupp
“Escalating Tensions” with Iran
Jonathan Power
Making the World More Equal
Cesar Chelala
The Social Burden of Depression in Japan
Stephen Cooper
Imbibe Culture and Consciousness with Cocoa Tea (The Interview)
Stacy Bannerman
End This Hidden Threat to Military Families
Kevin Basl
Time to Rethink That POW/MIA Flag
Nicky Reid
Pledging Allegiance to the Divided States of America
Louis Proyect
A Second Look at Neflix
Martin Billheimer
Closed Shave: T. O. Bobe, the Girl and Curl
May 23, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Belligerence of Empire
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail