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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

State wrongs

The perils of trying to cut health care costs are on display in state legislatures around the country as industry lobbyists try to sidestep federal law to get a deal that's good for them if not for us.

Pharmaceuticals and biologicals are a huge part of the cost of health care, yet lobbyists have been quite successful at limiting efforts to rein in spending -- from not allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for Part D coverage to slipping in a sweetheart deal for Amgen in the fiscal cliff bill.

Now we are seeing lobbyists descend on local capitals armed with bills, often written by industry, that would make it difficult, if not impossible, to substitute a generic or biosimilar for some of the highest price drugs in physicians' arsenals.

It's not a new fight. Despite generally good FDA oversight, the manufacturers contend the quality and safety of generics is not as good and therefore physicians should not be compelled to substitute the identical alternative made by another company.

The battle is harmful to patients not only in terms of costs but also supply -- as many major pharmaceutical companies are not manufacturing important but low-margin drugs while generic manufacturers find themselves squeezed out of existence.

It's the same old, sad story that those with the means can hire lobbyists to represent their financial interests before lawmakers. The rest of us have to live with the results, whether it is in higher costs or the lack of access to life-saving options.

There is no dispute that pharmaceutical companies can often spend billions in the development and manufacture of drugs -- with a number of costly failures along the way. But they have always been rewarded tax and other breaks over a set and limited amount of time to recoup those costs.

The lobbying efforts are designed to changes the rules to their benefit -- not for the benefit of the patients who need their products to live healthy and longer lives.

Yet it is usually the lobbyists who are heard, not the patient. No reform will work unless lawmakers but patients ahead of their campaign war chests.

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