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Better Than Nothing?



Yesterday, NBC ace reporter Sahil Kapur tweeted a pair of quotes from Bernie about the drug pricing “compromise” winding its way through the Senate now. Bernie: “This thing will only apply to a certain number of drugs. So it's a weak proposal. Is better than nothing? I suppose. But we’re dealing with the power of pharma over the Congress… It’s a very weak proposal. It goes nowhere near as far as it should.” Nor is Bernie happy that conservatives were able to postpone the date the bill would take effect to 2026. He wants Medicare to be able to negotiate with the drug manufacturers the same way the VA does. “The VA has been doing that for decades. The prices they pay are about half as much as Medicare.”


The weak bill is backed by Big PhRMA ally Joe Manchin, beloved of DC lobbyists. It only covers 10 drugs, which later increases to 20 drugs. Progressive Democrats wanted to include all drugs but, as usual, Democrats negotiated with themselves to make the bill as horrible as they thought Republicans and lobbyists would want it to be. But, of course, Republicans and pharma lobbyists still oppose it and are working furiously to block it. Schumer's role, as usual, is to lie his ass off, claiming this generally pathetic "better than nothing" bill is a major accomplishment. Jamie McLeod-Skinner ousted a major Big PhRMA ally, Kurt Schrader in the Oregon primary. Schrader was fighting against lowering the cost of drugs and against raising the minimum wage, while taking massive corporate bribes. Today Jamie is in a tough battle with a far right Trumpist Republican even worse than Schrader. She told me that "Medicare should be negotiating ALL prescription drug prices. That’s our goal. It’s frustrating that this first step is a small one, but we should take it to move forward towards our end goal."


The progressive Democrat running for the open congressional seat in Rhode Island, David Segal, told me this morning that "Even a robust Medicare negotiation rule would just be a start. The government regularly does research that it hands off to private companies to produce and distribute— we need to reexamine this process and make sure that at the very least the meds that are produced are affordable and accessible. For instance, there's a promising multi-variant COVID vaccine being developed by Walter Reed— if it works we need to make sure it's available and affordable to the public— the whole globe. And sometimes it will make sense to go even further: California is producing insulin and selling it basically at cost. The federal government should do the same for key meds that are too expensive. And we should revamp elements of the patent framework through which Big Pharma operates and look for other ways to incentivize private R&D."


If I had to guess, I would guess that Marianne Williamson is going to run for president-- whether Biden does or doesn't. This morning she told me that she "was speaking to a man in Australia the other day whose father is kept alive due to a pill that costs $30,000. I repeat that, $30,000. The medicine is entirely paid for by Australia’s universal healthcare system, for no other reason than that he is a citizen. Nothing like that exists here; Americans having been trained to expect crumbs. 'Of, by and for the people' is a concept that has been supplanted in the United States by 'of, by and for the corporations,' in this case Big Pharma. Thousands of Americans suffer and die each year so that is soulless, perverted form of capitalism might live. Chuck Schumer touting this bill as something we should all be excited about is pathetic. He should be naming names and taking no prisoners, expressing the outrage felt by millions of Americans that their government could do no better than procure such tiny concessions from the cold and greedy fingers of Big Pharma."

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