I debated — or rather tried to debate — Families USA’s Ron Pollack yesterday at a Mercatus Center luncheon briefing for congressional staff on whether to lift the ban on price controls in Medicare. Mercatus usually wants the person proposing change — in this case it was Ron since he wants to impose price controls on Medicare drug purchases - but Ron had asked if I could go first since he wanted a chance to eat his chicken wrap, salad and cookies. No problem, since I had eaten a protein bar beforehand.
I tried getting him to explain why he was for a drug plan that did not include price controls in 2000 and was opposed to the same kind of plan now. It’s okay to change your mind, after all. Though I asked Ron 7 times during our exchange about his flip-flop he never addressed the issue. The same goes for how he can categorize as negotiations a system that requires biotech and drug companies to give the VA a 24 percent discount below wholesale price or lower or be barred from dealing with Medicare, Medicaid and the Public Health Service is a “neogtiation”. Never explained that either. Like a robot programmed to stick to two messages, insulting my intelligence (I had called him a hypocrite in my American Spectator article so I wasn’t expecting compliments ) or trying to con people into believing that a federal law requiring price discounts and no price increases above the CPI is a negotiation, Ron just ignored my questions.
He took issue with a study by Frank Lichtenberg that demonstrated that for every dollar spent on new drugs to treat a medical condition, Medicare and consumers will save nearly 8 by not using more invasive medical procedures. He thought the conclusions absurd though he never read the paper. Here’s my source and a link to the paper itself: “For the Medicare population, average medical expenditure per condition is 57 percent higher ($1,286 versus $817) than for the entire population. Thus the savings from newer drugs are also somewhat higher. The total prescription drug expenditure per medical condition will increase by about $21,but the reduction in total non-drug spending per condition falls $176, yielding a $155 net reduction. Hospital cost reduction accounts for 58 percent of the savings ($102). Home health care is trimmed $37, and office visits $34.” (http://papers.nber.org/papers/w8996)
Typically, he called the Lichtenberg study, which is in a peer-reviewed economics journal, a “Phrma financed study.” I have no idea if it was or not. In any event, he didn’t take kindly to my pointing out that the substance was more important than who financed it just as his receiving funding from currency wrecker George Soros should not divert attention from his basic message.
I don’t think Ron and I will be having lunch again anytime soon.