Letters to the Pilot

Thursday, October 24, 2002

'Where's the beef' for our seniors?


Remember the Wendy's ads where a delightful little lady opens the hamburger bun, lifts up the lettuce and asks, skeptically, "Where's the beef?"

America now needs to ask the same question of Congress, which, instead of focusing on the real meat of Medicare prescription drug coverage is giving seniors the legislative equivalent of buns and lettuce.

Seniors need prescription drug coverage (the same coverage that millions of younger Americans, including members of Congress, now enjoy.) Instead, Congress has set up a veritable array of highly questionable condiments, leaving uncovered seniors asking where's the beef?

Among the congressional condiments is a so-called re-importation bill (a convoluted scheme that would allow pharmacists and wholesalers to bring in prescription drugs from Canada where drug prices are controlled by the Canadian government...

If enacted, that would overturn a landmark consumer protection law that prohibits imported medicines from coming back into the U.S. outside of the control of the manufacturer. Congress enacted that law years ago because there was a great danger that

re-imported medicines unregulated by the manufacturers responsible for the product could be adulterated or the target for counterfeiters.

A senior official of the Food and Drug Administration has warned that such legislation "will encourage unscrupulous individuals to devise schemes using Canada as a transshipment point for dangerous products from all points around the globe."

Moreover, the legislation doesn't offer what seniors really need: prescription drug insurance coverage.

Another meatless wonder being offered to seniors is the so-called "Greater Access to Affordable Pharmaceuticals Act," passed by the Senate in July, which would upset the careful balance created by a 1984 law enabling both development of newer and better medicines by research-based pharmaceutical companies as well as growing market for cheaper generic drugs.

Nearly half of all prescriptions today are filled with generic drugs, proof that the law is working as intended. But generic companies merely copy existing drugs ( they don't do any research of their own.)

That means if we tip the balance further toward the generic side of the see-saw, there won't be as much investment in pharmaceutical research.

As the population ages, we need cures for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke, arthritis and other diseases, not just cheaper copies of drugs discovered years ago.

Fortunately, some in Congress have prepared meatier fare for seniors. But the clock is ticking on this session on Congress.

If lawmakers buy into legislation that's all condiments but no meat, there won't be prescription drug coverage for seniors law passed this year. If that happens, seniors ( and all Americans ( will have a real beef with the people they send to Washington to represent them.

Russel Bantham,

Via e-mail