Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Health Care BS

I'm snagging a post by the Center of American Progress to help get this complex and fraud-tainted subject out to the public.

Overlooking Fraud Record

As seniors fear being bilked by the confusing new Medicare discount drug card program that starts today, the Center for American Progress released a new report showing that 20 of the 73 companies the White House approved to participate in the program have been charged at the federal and/or state level with fraud. The report, entitled "Paying to Play," shows those 20 companies gave more than $3 million to the president and conservatives in Congress since the 2000 election cycle. That represents more than 60% of the total contributions given to the president and conservatives from all 73 approved card companies. Additionally, seven of the president's "Pioneers" (those who raised $100,000 or more for him) are linked to companies approved for the program. Three of those companies have been accused of fraud. See more on Medicare at American Progress's special Medicare site.

"PIONEER" COMPANIES APPROVED DESPITE INVOLVEMENT IN FRAUD CHARGES: According to AP, Medco president Alan Lotvin recently held a $100,000 fundraiser for the president after the White House overlooked Medco's fraud record and approved the company for the drug card program. Medco recently was forced to pay $29 million in fines in a probe into "unfair and deceptive acts" in 20 states. Similarly, PacifiCare lobbyist Tom Loeffler raised at least $200,000 for the president. His company was subsequently approved by the White House for the drug card program, even though it was recently forced to pay the federal government $87.3 million to settle alleged violations of the federal False Claims Act. According to the 4/13/02 Orange County Register, the fine was "the largest civil settlement ever assessed on a company providing health coverage to federal employees." And Bush Pioneer Samuel Skinner is a member of the board of Express Scripts, a company approved by the White House even though its business practices are currently under investigation by the New York attorney general.

BUSH CRONY'S FIRM APPROVED, DESPITE RESISTING FEDERAL PROBE: AdvancePCS, a company run by Bush's longtime Texas crony and donor David Halbert, was approved to participate in the drug card program, even though in 2002 the company "fiercely resisted attempts by the Justice Department to interview some of its employees" during a probe into a prescription drug price fixing scheme. During the 1980s, Bush was an original investor in an early version of AdvancePCS, which netted him up to $1 million. He rewarded Halbert by allowing AdvancePCS to help craft the legislation that created the original drug card program. For more on the Bush-Halbert-AdvancePCS relationship, see American Progress's earlier report.

HERITAGE SPREADS UNTRUTHS FOR DRUG COMPANIES: In a new paper claiming to be "The Truth About the Medicare Drug Discount Card," the Heritage Foundation spreads the drug industry claim that the cards create competition and "transparency in drug prices." What Heritage does not say is that the "the drug prices offered by a given card can change from week to week as can the list of drugs the cards cover." In fact, while seniors "are scrambling to find the one card that offers the best prices for the drugs they take," the "card sponsors and drug manufacturers have made that task nearly impossible as prices are changing even before the program has begun." Meanwhile, once seniors select a card, they are locked into it for at least a year, even if drug prices and selection changes for that card.

The Christian Science Monitor has a good article about the lack of interest in obtaining one of the 70-plus (yes, more than 70!) different "discount" drug cards.

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