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Published on 31 May 2007

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Obama attacks US drug industry

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US Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama has launched a strong attack on the “skyrocketing profits” of the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries which, he says, “are paid for by the skyrocketing premiums that come from the pockets of the American people”.

Unveiling his proposals for a universal healthcare system to an audience at the University of Iowa on 29 May, Sen Obama urged businesses, the medical community and members of both major US political parties to work together to find a comprehensive solution to the healthcare affordability crisis. And, he warned: “It’s time to let the drug and insurance industries know that while they’ll get a seat at the table, they don’t get to buy every chair.”

The Senator told the meeting his plan would not only provide all Americans with high-quality healthcare but also save the average family up to $2,500 a year. This would be achieved by taking five “long-overdue” steps: cutting costs for businesses and workers through the Federal government paying the bills for some of the most expensive illnesses and conditions; focusing on prevention of costly, debilitating conditions; cutting healthcare cost by improving quality; cutting waste and inefficiency through use of the latest information technology; and breaking “the stranglehold that a few big drug and insurance companies have on the healthcare market”.

Some drugmakers were “dramatically overcharging Americans for what they offer”, Sen Obama told his audience. “They’ll sell the same exact drugs here in America for double the price of what they charge in Europe and Canada. They’ll push expensive products on doctors by showering them with gifts, spend more to market and advertise their drugs than to research and develop them, and when a generic drugmaker comes along and wants to sell the same product for cheaper, the brand-name manufacturers will actually pay off the generic ones so they can preserve their monopolies and keep charging the rest of us high prices.”

However, he added: “We don’t have to stand for that anymore.” His plan would make generic drugs more available and drug companies would be told “their days of forcing affordable prescription drugs out of the market are over”.

“When I’m President, we’re going to make drug and insurance companies compete for their customers just like every other business in America,” he said.

The day before Sen Obama unveiled his healthcare plan, his Democratic presidential rival, Sen Hillary Clinton claimed that giving the Federal government powers to negotiate drug prices for Medicare would save $10–$15bn a year. Speaking at Manchester School of Technology, New Hampshire, she asked: “Why should the drug companies be immune from the process that goes on every day in America, where you bargain for the best deal you can get?”

She said that when her husband Bill Clinton was president, he gave the Veterans’ Administration the ability to negotiate with drugmakers, and this was one reason why the VA had the lowest drug prices in the USA.

 



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