The new Medicare Prescription Drug Bill was supposed to make drugs more affordable for senior citizens, but numerous studies reveal that it has done just the opposite.
The actual so-called benefit from the bill will not go into effect until 2006, so in the meantime Bush and his cronies in the industry came up with the idea for a prescription drug discount card program intended to reduce prescription costs for senior citizens until 2006. To that end, Bush chose roughly 70 private companies to administer the program and provide the discount cards to seniors, at a fee of up to $30 to use at pharmacies.
Time to do the math. The Medicare program has about 40 million participants. So multiply that number by $30 and see how much it comes to. If the Bush scam had gone according to the plan, the companies authorized to administer the program would have made a bundle before the first prescription drug was even purchased. However, Bush and his gang underestimated the intelligence of seniors because few people signed up for the cards. In fact, last time I checked the companies couldn't even give them away.
What qualifications did a company have to have to be approved? That question requires a one-word answer -- money.
Most of the companies that Bush selected are either large insurance companies or prescription benefit managers (PBMs), and not surprising, most are top Republican campaign contributors. Many lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle, say the card program will benefit the drug and insurance industries far more than the elderly.
To begin with, in 2003, to ensure the passage of the industry's preferred version of the bill, drug companies, HMOs, their trade associations and industry-funded advocacy groups spent nearly $140 million and deployed over 900 lobbyists to do their bidding in Washington.
Topping the list of lobbyist spending by interested card providers was industry giant Merck, at $8 million. But other companies were close behind. Blue Cross also dropped close to $8 million; Aetna spent $2.9 million; Wellpoint Health Networks coughed up $1.5 million; Pacificare put up $1.42 million; and United Healthcare dumped $1.2 million.
In order to protect the profits of the already most profitable business in the US, the drug industry doled out more than $44 million in political contributions since 1999, with 78% to Republicans and 22% to Democrats.
It also spent millions more hiring a multitude of lobbyists that outnumber the members in Congress; and funneled millions more to “front groups” that do the industry’s bidding under more politically palatable sounding names such as “Citizens for a Better Medicare” and “United Seniors Association.”
And of course the loyal guy that he is, Bush rewarded his top contributors. The top seven executives and lobbyists from companies Bush approved, raised $100,000 or more for his campaign, and include Wellcare executives Todd Farha and David Hart; Blue Cross executive Michael Hightower; United Health CEO William McGuire; Medco President Alan Lotvin; Express Scripts board member Samuel Skinner; and PacifiCare lobbyist Tom Loeffler.
Bush Hires Crooks To Rip Off Seniors
Of the companies chosen, at least 20 have a history of being involved in fraud charges that include bilking Medicare and overcharging consumers. For instance, Bush-Best- Buddy, David Halbert's company Advance, faced lawsuits in 2003 for market manipulation and its failure to disclose the extent of its financial ties with drug makers.
The senior citizen advocacy group AARP also sued Advance, and accused the company of illicitly diverting seniors from AARP's drug-discount plan, and of actually putting seniors at risk for dangerous drug interactions.
Another Bush approved company, Medco Health Solutions, had to pay $29 million to settle claims by 20 states that it pressured doctors to switch the brands of their patient’s medication to benefit Medco financially. It has also been charged with defrauding the federal employees’ health plan.
In fact, Advance and Medco are both listed as defendants in a current lawsuit with two other approved companies, Caremark and Express Scripts. The suit alleges that they engaged in anti-competitive practices that harmed pharmacies, and that they entered into secret deals with drug makers in return for kickbacks and other undisclosed incentives.
Yet even with its long history of corruption, Bush entrusted Medco to administer drug discount cards to our seniors. Why? $$$ A few weeks after Bush approved the company, Medco President Alan Lotvin co-sponsored a $100,000 fundraiser for Bush, according to a report by the Associated Press.
But Medco is not the only approved company that has paid huge fines. Many other companies that Bush chose have histories of paying large sums of money to settle fraud claims, specifically related to ripping off Medicare and Medicaid. According to the 2002 Medicaid Fraud Report, United Healthcare paid $4 million to settle allegations that it charged both Medicaid and Medicare for the same patient services.
WellPoint paid over $9 million in 2003 to settle charges that its Blue Cross subsidiary defrauded Medicare by auditing more claims and cost reports than it actually did.
The Humana Health Plan is another big time crook. Between 1992 and 2000, it paid over $22 million to settle fraud claims that it billed both Medicaid and Medicare for the same services, and had received duplicate payments for the same patients.
Top lobbyists who raised big bucks for Bush also represent companies involved in fraud. Bush Pioneer, Tom Loeffler, is a lobbyist for PacificCare, a company that paid $87.3 million to settle charges of violating the federal False Claims Act in 2002.
The latest industry fraud case involving major drug companies became public on August 6, 2004, when New York City filed a lawsuit against 44 drug companies and their subsidiaries, accusing them of “deceptively inflating the cost of their drugs and defrauding taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars,” the New York Times reports. According to the LA Times, almost every major US drug company is listed in the suit.
Of course I'm sure that all of those legal problems were probably just the result of an eight-year period of honest mistakes. So by all means, let's throw open the door to the Medicare fund so these crooks can get their hands on more of our tax dollars.
The question is how could these corrupt companies ever get in a position where they could so easily exploit our elderly? Only one person can answer that question and Bush ain't talking.
Evelyn J. Pringle is a columnist for Independent Media TV and an investigative journalist focused on exposing corruption in government. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. (C) Copyright 2005 Evelyn J. Pringle.
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