Friday, September 07, 2007

Buyer’s Remorse: No Love for Medicare Part D on the Campaign Trail

So Many Happy Faces! None are Running for President in 2008

The Medicare prescription drug benefit known as Part D has been an unmitigated blessing for Big Pharma at a time when good news has been hard to find. It has greatly expanded drug coverage for senior citizens, providing a boost in prescription volumes. And it has shifted a large chunk of the market out of the price controlled Medicaid program, giving a healthy margin bump for many blockbuster brands.

It is also a political orphan, one that will face an especially harsh winter as the primary phase of the Presidential campaign moves towards its climax.

The Democrats make no secret of how they feel about Part D. Remember price negotiation? The idea may have died in the Senate, but it will be reborn this fall once Congress finishes its serious legislative work. Expect hearings and reports criticizing Part D prices—with the themes trumpeted by the Democratic candidates on the campaign trail.

None of the front runners in the Democratic party supported Part D, though the thinking here is that they secretly love it. After all, the program pumps hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into federal health benefits while allowing the candidates to bash Republicans for catering to the profiteers in Big Pharma and the insurance industry.

The problem is, as Jeffrey Young writes in The Hill, even the Republican contenders have nothing nice to say about Part D. Its not that they are turning on the pharmaceutical industry per se, its just that they don’t see anything to gain from talking to conservative voters about a massive expansion to federal health care entitlements.

Its no different than the 2006 Congressional campaign, which featured Democrats around the country attacking Part D—and Republicans changing the subject. Supporters of Part D, like former CMS Administrator Tom Scully, claim that the Republican Party should have embraced the program during last year’s campaign, instead of running away from it. It certainly is hard to believe the GOP would have fared any worse in the elections if they had.

Still, if the Republican legislators who enacted Part D refused to brag about it in 2006, you can expect the Republican Presidential contenders to stay even farther away from it. As The Hill’s Young points out, one of the top tier GOP candidates—John McCain—actually voted against the law creating the program. Another, Fred Thompson, voted against earlier plans to create a drug benefit, but left the Senate before the Part D law passed in 2003. The rest of the leading Republican contenders were not in Congress when Part D passed and hence have no stake in defending the program.

So expect a winter of Democratic attacks on Part D, with little or no response from the Republican campaigns.

Once the Presidential campaign shifts gears to focus on the general election in November 2008—the party nominations could be locked up as early as the first week of February—the dynamics may change.

The Democratic nominee is sure to keep attacking Part D. But the Republican nominee may be more eager to counterpunch. With the nomination locked up, fear of alienating small-government conservatives may be less important than the opportunity to cast Part D as model for public/private partnerships in expanding health coverage across the US.

Until then, don’t expect too many kind words about Part D on the campaign trail.

1 comment:

Cary said...

I agree. We won't hear much about part D from anyone beside John McCain. The good news is, I believe he will be one of the front runners for the Republicans and if he is in the presidential race, it will likely be a win-win for Medicare reform.