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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

June 26th, 2011 4:30 PM

Assault on U.S. Patients Accelerates, Fight Back Does Too

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions that stand to further enrich and protect the huge pharmaceutical companies, and the Obama administration made it more difficult for patients to appeal insurance company denials of care.  And almost no one noticed or put up a fight about it.  America’s patients are at the less and less available mercies of a system becoming less just and less patient friendly.

In the case of the Supreme Court rulings,  generic drug manufacturers will not have to fully disclose the possible risks and side effects of their products while the name brand, more costly meds will still more fully disclose these potential problems.  This will mean that patients who purchase generic drugs or for whom insurance will only cover generics will have less protection from harm and less recourse for that harm should something go wrong with that generic medication.

Not to be outdone in terms of favored status treatment by the Supreme Court, the tobacco industry’s lawyers are poised to file their own suits to make sure cigarette manufacturers do not have to warn smokers about risks – and that they’ll have no legal or product liability related to not warning them.

The other high court decision overturned a Vermont law limiting the selling by pharmacies of lists of which doctors prescribe which medications and how much and often.  Patient information is not disclosed, but the pharmaceutical companies use the information from the lists to target their pharmaceutical reps’ work and bump up sales of high profit drugs.  Marketing to doctors is already a huge part of how the pharmaceutical companies boost profits, but the methods of courting and wooing the doctors’ favor in prescribing has come under scrutiny in many states – including Vermont.  But the Court has ruled.  Big Pharma has the right to market its wares using lists of doctors and what they prescribe sold to them by the pharmacies where patients buy their medications.

Here’s a news report:  http://www.npr.org/2011/06/23/137376149/top-court-rules-in-favor-of-drug-companies-in-two-cases

Over in the Obama administrative wing, Health and Human Services officials have moved to make it more difficult for patients to appeal insurance denials  and to make it  restrictive enough in terms of time to file an appeal and the reasons why that insurance companies will be even more protected.

Here’s that news:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/obama-administration-narrows-rules-for-patient-health-care-appeals/2011/06/22/AGNciSgH_story.html

It’s a race to the corporate giants right now – a race they are winning to achieve more and higher profits and with little regard for the damage done to the patients.  We’re just not players in this game.

These are the kinds of decisions that make a huge difference in the health outcomes of millions of people and yet no one really reports much about them.  It’s a chipping away at the protections any of us have from the corporate interests that neither Republican nor Democrat or any other flavor of elected official has any will or power to confront.

I wonder sometimes even if more people knew how aggressively consumer and patient protections are being overthrown, what they would do and how they would work together to change the course before it truly is too late.

We hear it all the time that it is insanity to expect different results when repeating behaviors that led in the wrong direction.  Yet we wait for someone else, something else to help us shift course.  We look for external guidance rather than internal discomfort and our own sense of right and wrong to force us into action.

This week I was lucky enough to march with and stand with  National Nurses United  -- 170,000  registered nurses who have not only had enough but are  moving forward to heal the spirits and passions of so many Americans who have experienced the subrogation of personal power and freedom at the hands of corporate interests.  The nurses’ Main Street Contract campaign proposes not a generalized strategy for releasing the anger so many of us feel but a real plan of action for healing the nation and raising the revenue needed to do so by taxing the Wall Street interests that created the crisis.  For more information on the protest this week:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tme5bc3cXwA

In a quieter way, more than 40 advocates of state-based, single-payer healthcare reform gathered in conference in Denver last weekend to discuss how to move forward in their individual states.  These advocates want  to bring not only better access to care to all but also fiscal accountability and sanity to healthcare costs now threatening to bankrupt states and communities as the corporate interests drive health costs ever higher from Maine to Hawaii.  There was no great need for fanfare for this group, but its very existence and its seriousness  provides great hope to those who hear of decisions like the Supreme Court’s or the administration’s and wonder if anyone is working on behalf of the rest of us.

The road ahead is a difficult one and not easy.  For real people – not corporate profits and not only the wealthy interests -- to win this battle for our communities and our nation, it will take the dynamic and unwavering clarity of the nurses’ campaign and the diligent day-to-day advocacy of many, many of our neighbors and allies.  Fortunately, they are out there, they are working – and we will win.

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