Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann
According to a Lexington Law survey, a third of Americans check their bank balances every day. People who don’t check daily are most likely to check after a paycheck has been deposited or should have been through direct deposit.
Now, imagine if you looked at your bank balance and saw that your employer just put $2,596,153.00 into your account. And then the same amount showed up the following week. And the week after that. Every week for the entire year.
If you were a Big Pharma executive, that could be your reality. Regeneron’s Len Schleifer, for example, made $135,350,000.00 (over $2.5 million a week, or over $500,000 a day) in 2020.
Novavax’s Stanley Erck came in a distant second at $48,070,000.00 for the year.
Most other executives in the industry made between $18 million (Biogen’s Michael Vounatsos) and $29 million (Johnson & Johnson’s Alex Gorsky). (The amounts represent combined salaries and stock bonuses.)
These are not the people who develop the drugs that can save our lives; those scientists are paid a tiny fraction of what CEOs make. They don’t work on the production line manufacturing them or even design those lines.
And while Big Pharma CEOs can make as much as 3,500 times as much as the workers they employ, they’re not 3,500 times smarter.
But since five corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court legalized bribing politicians, their companies have gotten very good at it, leading to huge paydays for the executives overseeing the payoff operations.
And the GOP is all in on it. More on that in a moment.
President Biden and Democrats in Congress—without a single Republican vote in either the House or Senate—passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) last summer. That law lets Medicare negotiate drug prices for the first time since George W. Bush’s “Medicare reforms” in 2003 created the privatized Medicare Advantage scam and forbade such price negotiations by “real” Medicare. The IRA also requires drug companies to sell insulin to seniors at no more than $35, roughly the price people in most other countries pay.
Every other developed country in the world negotiates drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, as does the Pentagon, Veterans Administration, and, to a more limited extent, major hospital chains. Only the US Government’s Medicare program is forbidden by law from negotiating prices and instead must pay full retail for every drug used by Medicare recipients.
This is because when the GOP controlled both houses of Congress and George W. Bush was in the White House they passed and he signed the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (MMA) on December 8, 2003.
That law forbids Medicare from negotiating drug prices and forces the program to pay drug companies full-dollar one-pill-at-a-time retail prices, even though the system buys many drugs by the millions.
Last August 2022, to get the votes of a handful of Democrats who are also taking big bucks from Big Pharma, the IRA limited the price negotiation ability of Medicare to only 10 drugs plus insulin (capped at $35); those drugs were named by the Biden administration last month.
In 2022, 9 million Medicare enrollees paid as much as $6,497 each out-of-pocket for those 10 drugs for a total of $3.4 billion. Medicare itself paid an additional $50.5 billion. Just negotiating the prices on those 10 drugs is expected to save Medicare and Medicare enrollees nearly $100 billion over the next decade.
That money could instead have been used to further bloat pharma executive salaries and bribe Republican politicians, so the GOP is now brainstorming how to convince average Americans that it’s a bad deal to let Medicare negotiate drug prices like they did before 2003.
Most recently, Republicans on the House Budget Committee floated a proposal to gut all the healthcare provisions—particularly negotiating drug prices—from the IRA. As the White House notes, that would mean:
- A 62-year-old in Tampa earning $55,000 would see their health insurance premium increase by $7,000 per year.
- 14.5 million Americans nationwide will pay higher health insurance premiums and see a tax increase.
- Everyone with Medicare will see higher drug prices if Medicare cannot negotiate the price of drugs.
- Tens of billions of dollars will go right back to Big Pharma, which will increase the deficit.
- 3.3 million Medicare beneficiaries who use insulin will no longer have the peace of mind of knowing that their insulin is capped at $35.
- Millions of seniors will no longer be able to get recommended vaccines for free.
- Drug companies could go back to increasing drug prices faster than inflation with no accountability, which happened for 1,200 different prescription drugs last year.
It would also mean that Big Pharma could dramatically increase the size and number of the
bribes campaign contributions, luxury vacations, thousand-dollar-meals, and private jet travel they offer to Republican politicians.
It would, as the White House notes, “give tens of billions of dollars in subsidies back to Big Pharma, raise seniors’ prescription drug prices, and raise taxes on an estimated 14.5 million people – all while increasing the deficit.”
The drug companies themselves are eager to end the IRA, sanctimoniously claiming that instead of cutting executive salaries or the billions they pass out every quarter in dividends they’ll instead simply stop developing life-saving drugs. It’s ahistorical and untrue, but Republicans are running with it.
As the executive VP of the drug industry’s lobbying arm threatened Americans, and was reported in The New York Times:
“You can’t take hundreds of billions of dollars out of the pharmaceutical industry and not expect that it’s going to have a real impact on the industry’s ability to develop new treatments and cures for patients.”
The Executive VP of KFF (formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation) noted for The New York Times that the industry is pursuing four strategies to try to keep their bloated profits rolling in while sticking it to American consumers:
First, they’re claiming that if they can’t continue ripping us off it’ll inhibit their ability to develop new products. The Congressional Budget Office rebuts them, saying, at most, it could lead to one less drug developed over the entire next decade.
Second, they’re disingenuously calling these negotiations “price controls,” as if America were sliding down a slippery slope toward a Soviet-style managed economy. The US Chamber of Commerce is an enthusiastic supporter of this canard. As a Republican health care strategist told Politico, their messaging strategy will be to say the IRA “gets politicians and bureaucrats right into your medicine cabinet.”
Third, they’re arguing that the main benefit of the cost savings will be to the government, not to individual pharmaceutical users. There is some truth that Medicare will end up paying less and thus save money, but that will benefit people on Medicare, too, because it helps keep the program solvent.
Fourth, they’re arguing that it’s unconstitutional for the government to negotiate drug prices instead of simply paying whatever the drug companies demand. They’re planning to take this one to the six rightwing Republicans on the Supreme Court one day soon.
The total savings to Medicare of negotiating drug prices over the next decade are estimated to be around $237 billion (earlier estimates put it at $280 billion). So, right on cue, Republican Senator Rick Scott—a multi-millionaire and the former CEO of a company convicted of the largest Medicare fraud in American history—went on CNN to lie through his teeth, saying:
“Let’s remember—just, what, a few months ago, all Democrats voted, and Joe Biden signed a bill, to cut $280 billion out of Medicare.”
Host Kaitlan Collins tried to correct him that that was merely the cost saving to the system from negotiating drug prices, but Scott had his lie and he was sticking to it. He even ran a TV ad repeating the lie, along with another favorite Republican lie that there will be “80,000 new, armed IRS agents” looking to make your life miserable.
As David Dayen points out over at The American Prospect, virtually every Senate Republican is now on the take from Big Pharma.
Uniquely among the citizens of the world, Americans pay through the nose for pharmaceuticals. Democrats and the Biden Administration overcame massive resistance to gain this one, small, 10-drug concession and already the industry is suing them with support from the GOP.
As long as bribery remains legal in the United States, any sort of real, systemic reform of our healthcare system will continue to run up against multimillionaire CEOs and companies that can use as little as 1 percent of their obscene profits to successfully pay off lawmakers who have their hands out.
This fall and throughout 2024, expect to see more dishonest ads and talking points like Rick Scott’s all over the airwaves. They will literally be using your money, ripped off from you by George W. Bush’s corrupt Medicare scams, to buy your vote by convincing you drug price negotiations are a bad thing.
For today’s bought-off GOP (and a handful of bought-off “problem solver” Democrats), as long as Republicans on the Supreme Court keep the corrupt payola machine running, there simply is no bottom.
Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.