Friday, November 24, 2006

Pharmaceutical Industry Lobbying

Today's NY Times has a front page story describing how the pharmaceutical industry is scrambling to develop ties with the new Democratic majority in Congress. Their primary goal, it appears, is to prevent legislation that would amend the 2003 legislation that prohibits the government from negotiating prices for Medicare prescriptions. It's not surprising that the industry would want to make as much money as possible from the program, but what is surprising is the utter flimsiness of its claims that negotiated prices are not in the public interest.

The industry makes two main claims. First, the industry argues that the prescription drug plan is working. Okay, so what? Why would it work worse if the govt paid less for prescription drugs? Second, the industry argues that price negotiation would lead to artificial price controls, which would in turn lead to restrictions of drugs patients want. But as with any slippery slope argument, this one only works if there's some reason to think that the Congress that authorizes negotiations over price would not stop there.

Thus, the industry's principal strategy is not about persuading the public but rather just old-fashioned influence-peddling. Former Democratic staffers are in great demand as lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry to their newly ascendant former bosses. If Dems are smart, they'll realize that along with the war, Republican corruption was a key to their midterm victory, and hold the line. That may be a big "if."