Drug Industry To Push Health Care For The Poor

Later this week, the drug industry group PhRMA will announce a deal it has struck with the liberal advocacy group Families USA, backing increased government coverage under the Medicaid program for the poor.

During the last, unsuccessful effort to remake the health system, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America were among the most powerful opponents. Drug companies feared that the government would resort to price controls to limit costs, which would decrease or even eliminate their profit margins.

Now PhRMA will team up with Families USA to lobby Congress to expand Medicaid to cover everyone who meets the federal definition of poverty and those who make up to 33 percent more, which is about $14,000 a year in income for individuals. Adults without children, whether single or married, would qualify for the first time under the proposed expansion.

The duo will ask for a sliding scale of subsidies so that low-income people who make somewhat more than $14,000 will qualify for coverage, too.

In an interview, PhRMA President and CEO Billy Tauzin said his group is ready to sign on to a campaign to bring insurance to more people — even if it means drug companies will have to take less for their products — because too many Americans simply can't afford the medications they need.

"I think we're up to almost 50 percent of prescriptions that are unfilled in this country because people either don't have insurance, or co-pays are so high that they're not encouraged to stay adherent to their medicines and the result is people get sicker and sicker and end up costing a lot more," he said.

PhRMA is the latest former opponent to join the growing chorus for a health overhaul, following business and insurance groups. Tauzin, the former Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said his group's joining with one of the leading liberal advocacy groups should help convince lawmakers that it's safe for them to reach a compromise.

"When Families USA and PhRMA can get together, I hope that's a sign to everybody in the House and Senate that we can find common ground, and that the president's call to put party aside and to put ideologies aside and try to find what works is a good call," Tauzin said.

Congress is expected to start preliminary work on a bill as soon as this week.

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