Barbara Dreyfuss

Recent Articles

Overbilled

On Tuesday, September 20, while pharmaceutical lobbyists in Washington were busy peddling influence in the halls of Congress, the Council of the District of Columbia was passing a groundbreaking law restricting drug-company pricing. By unanimous vote, the council declared that selling patented drugs at “excessive prices” was illegal. It defined “excessive” as anything more than 30 percent over the price of the same drug in Germany, Canada, Australia, or the United Kingdom. The law allows the D.C. government -- or any city resident -- to force a drug company to prove to a court that its development and marketing costs and profits justify U.S. prices way above those charged abroad. The council's action is the most direct effort to date by a state or local government to force drug companies to prove that they are not price gouging. While a firestorm is raging in the states and cities against high drug prices, most lawmakers have concentrated on purchasing strategies -- such as importing...

Swept Away

Hundreds of thousands of displaced Gulf Coast residents are finding themselves in a health-insurance crisis. While those injured, sick, or chronically in need of health-care services are finally gaining access to emergency medical services at shelters or in the towns and cities to which they have been evacuated, their ability to continue getting needed care is made very difficult and put at risk because the United States does not have a national health insurance system. Paying for and keeping health insurance coverage is difficult, even in the best of times. Health-insurance premiums are unaffordable for many people, especially if they are unemployed, self-employed, or if their employer does not offer coverage. People losing jobs suddenly lose insurance; those changing jobs often lose coverage if their new employer doesn't provide it. State requirements to enroll in Medicaid are often so severe that many poor or disabled can't meet them. And even those on Medicaid often find that the...

Patents Pending

Unless the drug industry starts to negotiate significantly lower prices, it may find itself battling debt-strapped states for control over the manufacture of drugs. States already take land and other property in order to benefit the public by building things such as roads and schools. Now some legislators and officials are saying they should be able to take away a drug company's intellectual property, its patent. They want to give these patents, which allow a company to manufacture a product, to competitors that agree to sell the drugs to the states at much lower prices. Patents are the key to huge drug-company profits. The industry will fight vociferously to protect them. In West Virginia, where the issue came up last summer, industry lawyers warned a legislative advisory council away from proposing such action on patents, claiming it would be unconstitutional. With virtually unlimited resources, the drug companies could drag states through courts for years. Still, the specter of...

A Dirty Job

After creating record federal budget deficits by giving tax cuts to the wealthy and financing the war in Iraq, the Bush administration's budget proposal in February is widely expected to try to shrink deficits largely by slashing programs for the poor and the elderly, particularly Medicaid. Capitol Hill is expecting the administration's fiscal 2006 budget to include drastic cuts in federal Medicaid spending, offering states more flexibility in deciding what Medicaid will cover and who can enroll, in exchange for caps on federal money. And to help implement this the White House has just installed former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt as the new secretary of health and human services. Supporters of a strong Medicaid program look with alarm at Leavitt's track record as Utah governor. In 2003, he welcomed the administration's “Medicaid modernization” plan to offer some up-front money in exchange for caps down the road. And, ominously, Leavitt was the first governor to get federal permission...

Almost Heaven?

In April 2004, several members of the West Virginia House of Delegates flew to Minnesota to speak at a national meeting of the Council of State Governments. The legislators were eager for support from other states to bolster their ongoing effort to force drug companies to lower prices. Specifically, the West Virginia delegation wanted the council to include its legislation, designed to pressure drug companies to lower prices for state employees and other residents, in the forthcoming book Suggested State Legislation , an annual publication that highlights laws considered innovative and worthy of review. On day one, the West Virginia lawmakers were sent before the group's Health Capacity Task Force, which makes recommendations on which health laws to include in the book. Looking around the room, West Virginia officials were shocked to find that of the 23 members present, only eight were legislators and seven were drug-industry employees. And of the 17 guests who were not representing...

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