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DRUG INDUSTRY CRITICISM FOR PRICE HIKES IS "GOOD POLITICS," ANALYST TELLS NACDS, EVEN IF DRUGS REPRESENT SHRINKING PORTION OF NATIONAL HEALTH CARE BILL

Executive Summary

Criticizing the pharmaceutical industry for the high cost of prescription drugs "is good politics," and it is effective even though pharmaceuticals account for less than 5% of U.S. health care expenditures, Democratic political analyst Bob Beckel maintained at a Sept. 1 session of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores pharmacy conference in Chicago. The reason Democratic presidential nominee and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton is exploiting the issue of pharmaceutical price inflation effectively is related to a "fundamental problem" with the drug industry's image, Beckel maintained. "It may not be fair to you. I hear what you're saying" about the relatively small amount of national health care dollars spent on prescription drugs, Beckel said. "But it's politics and [drug prices are] one thing you can point to" in health care that everyone recognizes as increasing. "You raise these drug prices, and it may be perfectly legitimate because you do research, but when they [turn] on television and they see that some drug is ...up 300%," consumers understand that there is a problem "because most people are paying a lot more for drugs today than they were last year," and they pay out of pocket, Beckel told NACDS. Therefore, he continued, if Bill Clinton is "going to take on one group on one thing on health care, [he's] going to talk about the price of drugs" because voters consider it an issue to be addressed. Despite the cost effectiveness of drug therapy compared to physician and hospital expenses, if "you ask the man on the street where they think health care costs are going up, they'll tell you when they walk into a pharmacy and buy drugs," Beckel said. "I don't guess he [Clinton] sees a hell of a lot of votes out of the pharmaceutical manufacturers," he added. Republican political analyst Haley Barbour agreed that "it is politics" that determines issues or "targets." Noting that "health care costs have skyrocketed," Barbour said, "the Democrats have chosen to try to focus people's attention on this [because] they're looking for targets." One problem with election campaigns, Barbour maintained, "is that you've got politicians out there, and you've got Bill Clinton right at the front of the list, who are absolutely determined to say what they think the voters want to hear." Beckel retorted: "Read my lips, no new taxes" was "the ultimate in what they wanted to hear -- a bald-faced lie." Addressing an Aug. 31 session of the NACDS conference, HHS Deputy Secretary Kevin Moley contended that President Bush's health care reform proposals, announced last February, would improve access without destroying the U.S. health care system. In what amounted to a re-election speech for the Bush Administration, Moley urged NACDS members to vote in November, stating that their "survival is at stake." Moley suggested that the "play or pay" health care proposal by the Democrats would replace the current health care system with a "mandated, nationally run bureaucracy." The HHS official subbed for Secretary Sullivan as the keynote speaker of the NACDS conference. Sullivan had to cancel his appearance to attend an emergency meeting with Bush and other cabinet members to discuss plans to provide relief for the victims of Hurricane Andrew. "We need to expand the private-public partnership in this country to cover all Americans," Moley remarked. Although the U.S. spends 14% of its gross domestic product on health care, 15% of Americans lack quality coverage, he said. However, he contended, access can be expanded through the President's plan for the use of vouchers for the poor, health insurance tax credits and deductions for small businesses and low- and middle-income citizens, elimination of medical underwriting that denies coverage for severely sick individuals and reform of medical malpractice liability law. The U.S. has "the highest quality, most technologically advanced health care system anywhere in the world," Moley said. "It is not the citizens of our country who go to Canada or Germany or Great Britain or anywhere else in the world for their health care; it is their citizens...who come to the U.S."
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