Tuesday, November 14, 2006

White House lobbying UK's NHS for drug price war.

UK: Why do I have this feeling this is an own goal by the White House because Dems want this "price war" going on over here which is now against the law.

The White House is lobbying British ministers to allow the world's main drug companies unrestricted access to the NHS as part of a package of free market reforms for the service. The US government is positioning itself behind the giant pharmaceutical firms, predominantly based in America, which have been piling pressure on the body that approves drugs for use in hospitals and for prescription by GPs. The drug companies claim that they are being held back by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and have separately lobbied for it to be reformed. In a surprising intervention, the US deputy health secretary, Alex Azar, forced the issue in London yesterday, ahead of talks with officials following a trip to the US last week by the health secretary, Patricia Hewitt. He said attempts to use rationing mechanisms such as Nice to cut soaring drugs bills would stifle innovation - an argument that is constantly made by the pharmaceutical industry. Allowing all new drugs to be used in the NHS would result in the companies "fighting it out" on price, Mr Azar said, which would drive the drug bill down. He made it clear that he was also in favour of the drug companies being allowed to advertise directly to patients. At the moment they may only advertise to doctors. down.
The White House arguments will increase the mounting pressure on Nice, which is regularly castigated by patient groups and drug companies when it rejects a new medicine from use in the NHS on cost grounds. Recently there was an outcry over its ruling that new drugs for Alzheimers should be given only to those with moderate disease, and yesterday cancer charities objected to its preliminary ruling that a new drug, Tarceva, for lung cancer, should not be used in the NHS. Ministers have been directly lobbied by drug companies arguing that its decisions are ill-founded and inappropriate.
But the GOP argument here is the exact opposite.
An early, big fight will probably involve Medicare's prescription drug benefit for seniors, known as Part D. The 2003 law that established the $31 billion program barred Medicare from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies over prices. If Medicare had that power, companies could lose billions of dollars. With so much at stake, the industry gave $14.8 million to Republicans and $4.5 million to Democrats in the 2006 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Even before Election Day, the industry began arguing that price cuts would curb their resources for developing new drugs. It's also asserting that government negotiations would amount to the imposition of price controls, which could lead to shortages. Ken Johnson, a senior vice president at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade association, expects Democrats to quickly approve legislation giving the government negotiating authority. "But after that, it's a long way to President Bush's desk, and we'll have ample opportunity to explain to Americans and Congress the downside of having the federal government negotiating on behalf of seniors," he said. A Medicare spokesman said the cost of Part D has proven to be significantly less than anticipated because of competition built into the program.
It's late and probably missing the difference, someone help me out if I am wrong in this.

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