SHOW: DOLANS UNSCRIPTED 10:00 AM Eastern Standard Time
June 9, 2004 Wednesday
Transcript # 060902cb.l33
HEADLINE: Medicare Prescription Card Chaos, CNNfn
GUESTS: Debbie Stabanow
BYLINE: Ken Dolan, Daria Dolan, Ed Lavandera
DARIA DOLAN: We're joined by Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat, from Michigan, joining us from Washington, D.C.
Good morning, Senator, how are you?
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: I'm fine. It's good to be with you.
DARIA DOLAN: Thank you.
KEN DOLAN: Have you figured out the Medicare card, Senator Debbie?
STABENOW: Well what I figured out, is that folks better look very carefully at this. Because I don't think it's a particularly good deal for seniors, for most seniors. What we have is another part of this Medicare law that was written in the best interest of the companies at the expense of seniors.
Seniors have to sign up for one card. Pay about $30, they have to keep it for a year. And yet, once they sign up and go through all this complexity to decide what's best for them, the prices can change every seven days. The numbers-the list of the drugs that are covered for a discount can change every seven days.
So in Michigan, we have a lot of communities that have prescription drug cards through our county government and so on, that I think are a much better deal than this is for most people.
DARIA DOLAN: And for many-in many instances, the savings can be as little as $10. So, to spend $30 to save $10 is just stupid economy.
DARIA DOLAN: My own mother, when confronted by this situation, and thank God, doesn't take any real medications, opted to stay with her Walgreen discount card because it was a better deal and there was no confusion.
STABENOW: Well, and I think that's what's happening with a lot of people. You know, the folks that really, I think, have the most to gain from this are low-income seniors that qualify for Medicaid now, that would benefit from the $600 of value that's in the card, for low income seniors.
The problem is they weren't automatically sign up for this. I'm sponsoring legislation with colleagues that would automatically sign up low-income seniors so that they could benefit from this $600 worth of prescription drug benefits.
But, right now, they have to go through all this confuse, not only going through all the cards but seeing whether or not they qualify as a low- income senior. So very, very complex. The folks who need it the most I think will have the most difficulty actually getting any help.
This could be done much easier, as you know. Instead of all this stuff, if we just simply let Medicare negotiate a group discount like we do the VA, for veterans, we could lower prices in half.
KEN DOLAN: Senator Debbie, Tony Principi, the secretary of the VA-I'm not name-dropping-is one of our best personal friends in the world. He found out he could save 46 percent on Zocort (ph), 56 percent on Previcil (ph), and 65 percent on Norvast (ph), which is a blood pressure thing, and 221 percent on Prodonix (ph).
What is the big secret here if Tony and his gang at the VA can do so well, why can't we mass buy for senior citizens? And just mass buy and sell it to them? Where's the brain surgery here?
STABENOW: You're absolutely right. Unfortunately, the drug company lobbyists were able to insert language into the middle of this new law that stops us from doing that.
KEN DOLAN: You're kidding?
STABENOW: You know there are six drug company lobbyists for every one member of the Senate.
DARIA DOLAN: How na<ve are you? You're surprised by what the Senator is saying?
KEN DOLAN: Senator, are you saying that the drug companies actually contribute to senators and presidential elections and that might change legislation for senior citizens? Is that possible?
STABENOW: Well, as you know, unfortunately, in the end this is a bill that started out to be a real Medicare benefit for seniors, and an effort to lower prices, frankly, for everybody, every business, every individual would benefit if we simply opened the border to Canada and allowed the local pharmacists to trade with the pharmacists in Canada. And if we negotiated group prices it would be less tax dollars being used to help support Medicare.
KEN DOLAN: That's a great point.
STABENOW: So we all benefit by doing this. Unfortunately, the wrong folks ended up benefiting by this law and my opinion is we need to do it over again and we need to do it right.
KEN DOLAN: Well said, Senator.
DARIA DOLAN: I couldn't agree with you more on that. But I think the saddest commentary on all of this, Senator Debbie, is the fact that-I mean, there's so many layers to it. You look at a list of nine different drugs. How could they possibly all be doing-that poor woman an Arkansas, in Ed's piece, some of them have to be working against one another.
So we're stymied by the medical profession, they get treats and buffets and what have you from the drug companies that are pushing companies that may or may not be needed. We have a congressional situation where the money is coming from the power players to the detriment of the people who elected all of you sitting there.
And we have our neighbor to the north, Canada, that's doing it the right way. And we're being told that anything that we bring in from there is dangerous! Because they don't handle thing the way we do.
STABENOW: Right. No, you're absolutely right. This is very complicated, lots of pieces. We know that we can open the border and do business with Canada safely. We know that. We have a strong bipartisan group of senators that agree with that.
It's interesting to note the manufacturers in some cases actually manufacture their drugs in other countries and we send the FDA there to inspect the plant to make sure it's safe. We can do that. We can make it safe. This is all about who benefits.
KEN DOLAN: Well, said.
STABENOW: And right now, we have an industry-the most highly subsidized industry in the world. We help to pay to create these drugs because it is important. Life-saving medications, cancer drugs, blood pressure drugs, diabetes.
KEN DOLAN: Important stuff.
STABENOW: It's important. At the end of the day, we have to be able to afford the medicine.
DARIA DOLAN: Senator, I have a recommended partial solution to your problem with the drug industry. Since they keep crying that if we don't pay here in America the prices that we do, they'll be in more research and development, which of course is just patently illogical.
DARIA DOLAN: And since they really only contribute 12 cents out of their bottom line to R&D because most of it come through the National Institutes of Health.
DARIA DOLAN: I suggest you start a movement in Congress to inform the drug companies you will back off, you will allow them to continue to charge what they do, but by the way, you won't be needing the NIH's funding because you've got so much money you can do it yourself.
STABENOW: Well, you raise a really good point. Because right now we're spending billions of dollars, you and I, and everyone listening today, to fund the National Institutes of Health. And I support that. I support basic research. I want the companies to be successful in bringing new medicines on the market.
But all we ask if we're going to help fund it, we want to be able to afford it. This isn't buying a pair of tennis shoes or jar of peanut butter. This is life-saving medicine. We have a right to expect, if we're going to help fund to create these medicines, that we can afford them. And people aren't going to lose their life savings in order to get the medicine they need.
KEN DOLAN: Senator, kick some butt, will you, please?
STABENOW: I will.
DARIA DOLAN: Don forget young people who also in some cases need this help, it's not just seniors.
KEN DOLAN: Thank you, Senator Debbie Stabenow.
Yes, final comment, Senator. I don't want to cut you off.
STABENOW: Well, I was just going to say.
KEN DOLAN: Yes.
STABENOW: Every business that sees their premiums go up is seeing it, in part, because of these rising prices, so we all have all have a stake in this.
KEN DOLAN: Thank you, Senator Stabenow, very much. Well done.