The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum by Professor Michael Myers Editor's Note: The Elder Law Forum is a public service of the University of South Dakota School of Law, an extension of the SENIOR LEGAL HOTLINE available at no cost to persons 60 and older at 605-677-6343 and during regular business hours. The Elder Law Forum delivers information and educational material by radio, a weekly newspaper column, and Law School research papers placed on the USD School of Law Web site. Professor Myers teaches Elder Law at the School of Law.

Buy Pharmaceutical

Stock, Don't Get Sick

There was singing, and some dancing, in the board rooms of Merck, Bayer, and Johnson & Johnson this week as President Bush signed a Medicare reform bill that promises to deliver a projected $400 billion of tax money to their industry, no strings attached.

They were particularly melodious as they sang their favorite themes from the bill: "Neither the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, nor any other representative of the people's government, shall be permitted to negotiate prices with the pharmaceutical industry."

And another favorite phrase that produced bird-like whistling: "It shall continue to be unlawful for mom and dad to re-import prescription drugs at lower costs from unsafe places like Canada or elsewhere."

Indeed, it was a glorious day for an industry whose lobbyists outnumber congresspersons six to one, has earmarked $49 million for political lobbying this year, and has more than half of its research costs paid with federal tax dollars.

It was also a pretty good day for physicians. Congressional leadership delivered on its promise to the American Medical Association to restore proposed cuts in reimbursement to physicians treating Medicare beneficiaries.

And, it was a good day for HMOs, private health insurers, and hospitals. They, too, gathered together for songfests while repricing their services at eight to nine times the consumer price index, knowing they will not be exposed to the type of market competition faced daily by Burger King, General Motors, Nike, or for that matter, WalMart.

On the other hand, there was no joy within the ranks of economists, policymakers and others who have expressed dismay at our current $6.5 trillion debt level, and the promise of another $5.5 trillion of debt by 2013, according to Goldman Sachs.

Many seniors with high prescription drug costs need and deserve relief. They made a compelling argument for the Medicare prescription drug benefit. And politicians, knowing that we elders vote, were accommodating. But keep your eye on these rivers of tax monies, their source, and where they go.

"Professor, what do you think of this new Medicare law?" a USD Senior Legal Helpline caller asked. "Buy a lot of pharmaceutical stock and send your daughter to medical school," I responded, adding, "and, by the way: don't get sick!"

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