02-19-2017  3:18 pm      •     

For Ms. J, a resident of Macomb County, Mich., the prescription drug program is a nightmare. Now in her 70s, she and her husband live on Social Security and a small pension from his work. His company went belly-up so he lost his health care benefits. But with discount drug cards, they've been able to buy medicine for about $135 a month.


Now under the new drug program, their discount cards won't work — and the deductible of the plans that cover their drugs costs $250 to $500. She's worked with her pharmacy, gone to a special briefing at the school, spent Christmas with her computer-literate daughter going through the alternatives. And in every one, she'll end up paying more than she does now.


The new, privatized prescription drug program is a mess. Hundreds of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens have found themselves cut off from prescriptions paid for by Medicaid and unable to obtain essential medicines. Millions of seniors find themselves stupefied by a blizzard of insurance company offerings that are difficult to judge.

Many, in the years ahead, are likely to find themselves cut off when the drugs they need change and aren't covered by the plan they chose, or when the plan they chose decides it can profit more by dropping the drug they need. And perhaps worst of all, the sick who need the most costly drugs will find themselves in the "hole in doughnut" — above the threshold where their drugs are covered and faced with staggering out-of-pocket costs. This from a program that will cost Americans over $500 billion over the next 10 years.


Why is this program so bad? Our most vulnerable citizens are paying the costs of Washington corruption. This is a drug program written by and for the insurance companies and the drug companies by compromised and compliant Bush political appointees and Republican legislators.


Hearing about the lavish lifestyle of Republican boss Tom DeLay, or the cynical corruption of ex-Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, with his choir-boy looks, many Americans dismiss congressional corruption as an insider's game — Washington rot that goes on all the time.


But it is the vulnerable that pay the costs of corruption. And the prescription drug program is a perfect example. Reformers called for the program to be set up under Medicare. That would have enabled Medicare to use its purchasing power to negotiate lower prices for drugs, the way the U.S. Department Veterans' Administrations does. A new study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that the savings would be such that, under the current budget, all the drug needs of seniors could be covered, with some billions in savings sent back to lower the deficit.


The program shovels billions in subsidies to the insurance companies to encourage them to offer competing plans for seniors — and then actually prohibits Medicare from negotiating a better price for seniors.


Thomas Scully, Bush's appointee to run Medicare, was a hospital industry lobbyist before taking office. While in office, Scully got a "waiver" that allowed him to negotiate his future job — as a lobbyist for the drug companies — while still in office. So not surprisingly, Scully misled the Congress about the cost of the bill and threatened to fire his chief actuary when he wanted to tell the Congress the truth about the cost projections.


And the Republican committee chair in charge of ushering the bill through was Rep. Billy Tauzin. Once the bill passed, Tauzin retired to take a million-dollar salary as president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry's big-bucks lobby.


Seniors are paying the price in confusion, catastrophic drug cutoffs, escalating drug prices. And American taxpayers pay for the costliest health system in the world, with the worst health results in the industrial world.
So when people say the stench in Washington doesn't matter, take another whiff. It is time to clean out those stables.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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