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Older Arkansans have been finding in their mail boxes colorful brochures telling them what a grand thing the new Medicare prescription drug coverage is. These brochures are from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There is no more ruthlessly anti-consumer group around than the U.S. Chamber, which exists solely to advance the interests of corporate America.

“Coming January 1, 2006: Security and Peace of Mind with Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage,” the Chamber says. “Saving on your prescription drugs is as simple as 1-2-3.”

The Medicare drug coverage plan that the Bush administration and the Republican Congress approved is not simple, requiring those eligible for coverage to sort through dozens of plans that vary in hundreds of ways. Enrollees will end up choosing a plan with no idea whether it’s the best one for them or not. They will not have peace of mind; they may not have much coverage.

“Plan choices are approved by Medicare and sold by private insurance companies,” the Chamber says. It does not say that this arrangement is a payoff to the insurance companies for their support of the president and his party. If Medicare itself were administering the plan, it would be both simpler and cheaper. Study after study has shown that government-run programs like Medicare and Social Security have lower administrative costs than privately run insurance programs. Nor does the Chamber tell us that drug prices would be lower if Medicare were allowed to negotiate with the drug manufacturers. That omission was payoff to the drug companies, whose political contributions are even more generous than the insurers’. Most people have no choice but to sign up, of course; the program is somewhat better than nothing. It is nowhere near what it should be.



Senatorial reform needed


Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., is a right-wing rowdy who has been among the loudest voices for “tort reform,” claiming that medical liability is the number-one health crisis and sponsoring legislation for a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. That would be for other people, apparently. As ABC’s “Primetime” has reported, Santorum’s wife sued a doctor of chiropractic for $500,000 in 1999. The senator testified for her, saying that a botched spinal manipulation had caused his wife to gain weight, and that he now had to carry the laundry upstairs. A jury awarded $350,000, none of which was for lost income and only $18,800 of which was for medical bills. The bulk of the award was for non-economic damages, including “pain and suffering.” A judge reduced the award, as usually happens when juries go overboard. The tort system works. Hypocrites like Santorum are the problem.




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