Jun 16, 2004
Health Care: Getting better, but still sick
The Oakland Tribune
by Bob Cuddy
IN California, millions of moms and dads cannot afford to take their sick children to the doctor, and millions more senior citizens face their twilight years with dread because of declining health.
So it is encouraging that a handful of California legislators, including San Leandro Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett, have pushed through a ground-breaking package of prescription drug reform bills, including an absolutely essential bill that would allow bulk purchasing.
Nevertheless, much more must be done to rein in health care costs that are forcing Californians to stay sick because they can't afford to get well.
California needs broad-based cost controls. That includes not only access to affordable prescription drugs, but also bulk purchasing of drugs. The state needs to regulate the health insurance industry's boundless administrative costs and curtail its callous pursuit of limitless profits.
The Assembly and Senate approved a slew of bills in May. One would create a Web site in the Department of Health Services that would help seniors and others get drugs safely from Canada. That same bill would require the Department of General Services to find the most frugal way for the state to buy from Canada.
Another bill would authorize the California Public Employees Retirement System to form a purchasing pool for prescription drugs for public and private buyers. The Canadian government as well as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs uses this technique, which would help small business owners and uninsured patients. It saves 30 to 60 percent on the costs of prescriptions.
The bulk purchasing bill, AB 1958, is a market-savvy strategy that will provide low-cost drugs to far more people. It will allow owners of small businesses, as well as uninsured patients, to receive the same prescription drugs discount that the governor, legislators and state employees currently receive.
Other bills require a state audit of procurement and reimbursement practices, and openness in the way the government does business. The bill by Corbett, a Democrat, requires a report card, available to the public, on the safety, effectiveness and cost of prescription drugs. As helpful as these bills will be, the Legislature must also tackle hospital costs by standardizing rates and capping health insurers' overhead.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights has a thorough and well-researched blueprint for reform, on which much of this legislation is based. You can find it on the group's Web site at calhealthconsensus.org.
Californians need help as well from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governor has taken $300,000 from the pharmaceutical industry. But he has enormous political clout and took office as a reformer.
For health care reform to work, Schwarzenegger is going to have to do what he accused Gray Davis of not doing: keep his campaign promise to serve all the people of California, including those with little or no money.
He could begin by signing the pharmaceutical reform bills passed by the Legislature.
Bob Cuddy is a Livermore resident and former editorial page editor for ANG Newspapers.