KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Strategies For And Against Take Shape and Take Aim At Health Care Reform Plans

Conservatives against President Obama's attempt at health care reform are releasing a slew of ads comparing the proposed government plan to cover uninsured Americans to health care in Canada, which they say risks lives because of government rationing and long waits, the Associated Press reports.

"Conservatives for Patients' Rights has produced a 30-minute documentary-style video featuring patients from the United Kingdom and Canada recounting horror stories at the hands of their country's government health care systems."

"The group has purchased air time immediately after NBC's Sunday talk show "Meet the Press" May 31 to broadcast the ad in Washington. It will also run nationally on cable networks beginning Wednesday and will be distributed to activists in key senators' home states" (Werner, 5/26).

In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal reports on another group - the Americans for Prosperity Foundation - and its plans to launch a television campaign worth $1.7 million.

This ad also seeks "to liken the Democrats' proposed system to those in countries where the government has more involvement in the health system. Many experts don't believe such systems offer worse care than the current U.S. system, which is based largely on private plans and coverage," the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation ad also features a patient, this time a Canadian woman with a brain tumor, who waited six months to see a specialist. The ad is slated to run in the states of Montana, Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, Indiana, Alaska and Nebraska. Those are states with lawmakers influential in the health care reform process (Adamy, 5/27).

Reuters reports that Republicans have been slow to organize and often uncertain how to proceed when speaking out against Obama's plan. "'We're dealing with shadows. No one knows what is going to be in the bill so it's impossible to assess,' said Gary Ferguson, a Republican pollster who specializes in healthcare'" (Whitesides, 5/26).

As groups form their opposition to the plan, some Drug CEOs are joining the side to help reform the health care system in an effort to keep prescription drug prices from falling sharly, the Wall Street Journal reports in a separate story.

"Their approach contrasts sharply with their behavior 15 years ago, when they helped defeat President Bill Clinton's reform efforts from the outside. 'This is not the 1990s, when the industry was playing defense,' says John Lechleiter, Eli Lilly & Co.'s chief executive. 'We're playing offense. We're at the table.'

"The pharmaceutical executives are using their new access to try to steer lawmakers away from measures that could reduce drug margins, pressing instead for cost reductions by hospitals and insurers," according to the Journal.

Part of the CEOs' rationale is that a shift toward preventive care could increase sales for some medications that patients take long term. AstraZeneca PLC CEO David Brennan said prescription drugs account for just 10 percent of the cost of health care spending in the U.S. Brennan told the Journal that the reform should include attempts at reforming co-payments that keep drugs out of the hands of patients who need them because of cost.

And despite the pledge to rein in costs "drug makers have been pushing through hefty price increases. Prices for many drugs were up more than 15% in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to data from Credit Suisse. Pharmaceutical companies say the increases are fair and necessary as drugs mature, but analysts say the companies are trying to eke out as much revenue from the treatments as they can before patents expire and health-care reform drives down prices."

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical executives worry that a health care overhaul could lead to too much government intervention. A spokeswoman for the Obama administration "says the administration isn't negotiating with drug companies or other health-care industries" but instead is working with lawmakers who are writing legislation and trying to figure out issues like how to finance an overhaul. "Allowing Medicare to negotiate the price of drugs dispensed through the Part D program, for example, 'just hasn't come up yet' she says" (Rockoff, 5/27).

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