The Obstacles to Real Health Care Reform: Private Insurers and Big PhRMA - by Stephen Lendman
In almost the same breath on August 17, the White House effectively dropped a real public option (that likely never existed) while Obama was telling the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) that the Pentagon will escalate the Afghanistan/Pakistan war into a long-term conflict that will assure "more difficult days ahead." He did so in defiance of international and Constitutional law, the lives and welfare of American forces, millions in both target countries, and lied at the same time saying: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity" in plain contradiction of the fact that in October 2001, US forces launched a long-planned premeditated attack against a non-belligerent country posing no threat to America.
Obama's Central Asia agenda matches his domestic arrogance against the rights and welfare of millions of Americans. Denying them real health care reform is one of many ways he defiles the public interest in deference to the corporate ones he serves.
On financial matters, it's trillions for Wall Street. On "defense," it's imperial wars and handouts to weapons and munitions makers, and on public health it's promoting mass-innoculations of experimental, toxic vaccines and rejecting real health care reform - universal single-payer, the only real kind that all other Western nations provide. But not the richest country in the world more focused on corporate than public welfare.
Simply put, the obstacle to real health reform is the insurance and drug lobby's stranglehold on Democrat and Republican administrations and Congress. Corporate lawyers draft new laws, sign-off on changes, and industry officials staff the FDA, CDC, and other related agencies, then return to high-paying jobs in the sectors they represent. Public welfare is unconsidered under a system favoring profits, so achieving real reform is near-nil. Whatever, if any legislation, passes, will make a dysfunctional system worse by rationing care, leaving growing millions uninsured, many others underinsured, while enriching insurers, drug companies, and large hospital chains.
Predatory Drug Giants
Called Big PhRMA with good reason, they wield inordinate power over policies affecting their industry. Poorly tested new drugs are fast-tracked and only withdrawn after hundreds, often thousands, are harmed. Yet no congressional committee ever investigated a process endangering millions of lives because lawmakers reap huge campaign contributions regularly in return for industry-friendly legislation and regulations.
In January 1997, Rezulin got swift FDA approval to control blood sugar for patients with Type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes. It was only withdrawn in March 2000 after dozens of liver failure deaths were reported and many others found to be afflicted with serious, potentially life threatening damage.
In May 1999, the FDA fast-tracked Vioxx (the anti-inflammatory NSAID) despite suspicions at the time that Merck knew of dangerous side effects and marketed the drug anyway. Evidence later emerged that the FDA knowingly approved, promoted, and refused to recall it after as many as 100,000 heart attacks were reported and thousands of deaths.
Dr. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said this after reading Wall Street Journal-published insider emails on how Merck hid damaging clinical trials evidence and sold the drug anyway:
"In the case of Vioxx, the FDA was urged to mandate further safety testing after a 2001 analysis suggested a 'clear-cut excess number of myocardial infarctions.' It did not do so. This refusal to engage with an issue of grave clinical concern illustrates the agency's in-built paralysis, a predicament that has to be addressed through fundamental organizational reform....the FDA acted out of ruthless, short-sighted, and irresponsible self-interest" to protect the interests of its own - and it happens regularly by approving dangerous drugs and only recalling them in cases too egregious to ignore. Even then only reluctantly to assure maximum industry profits.
The agency also censors its own scientists as Dr. David Graham, associate director for science in the FDA's Office of Drug Safety, explained in summer 2005:
"....the review and clearance process has been turned into a battleground, full of contention and intimidation because our managers, the people who fill out our performance evaluations, had created a system where it was taking a great risk to stand firm in our scientific beliefs."
He essentially called the FDA a corrupted, industry-controlled tool placing bottom-line considerations over public health and welfare, then punishing whistleblowers who expose abuses.
On September 30, 2004, Merck, not the FDA, voluntarily recalled Vioxx after facing growing numbers of lawsuits (burgeoning later to around 50,000), but admitted no fault or responsibility at the time. It was later learned that around 80% of Vioxx claimants were on Medicare or Medicaid. Government, not Merck, will pay 80% of settlement claims. Merck may later repay some or all of them.
However, under a subsequent FDA preemption policy, no lawsuits may be filed in state courts pertaining to agency-approved drugs so winning them in federal ones, stacked mostly with hard-right Federalist Society-affiliated or approved judges, will prove far more challenging, expensive, and time consuming. In addition, getting approvals for class-actions will be harder.