Drugmakers take shots at stimulus

Drugmakers are up in arms over a tiny sliver of the economic stimulus bill under debate in Congress: A $1.1 billion provision for research comparing the effectiveness of medical treatments. Sounds rather benign, no? But pharma companies say it's the first step toward that frightening spectre of socialism: government rationing.

The House version of the bill was blunt. Treatments found to be less effective and/or more expensive "will no longer be prescribed," the Wall Street Journal reports. The Senate version, however, doesn't specifically take cost into account--and the industry successfully lobbied for the addition of "clinical" as an adjective describing the research, in a further attempt to bar cost from the discussion.

The final version of the bill will be negotiated by conference committee. But the lobbying push illustrates just how tough it's going to be for President Obama to overhaul the healthcare system. Because pharma's fortunes rely on getting the most money for the most products as possible, the comparative effectiveness research Obama campaigned for is likely to find itself painted as government meddling (at best) and the thin end of the socialized-medicine wedge (at worst).

Not to mention the fact that it's higher prices in the U.S. that balance out lower prices in countries that are more aggressive about negotiating prices and controlling access to meds. If the U.S. suddenly gets tough, what happens to prices elsewhere? And what happens to pharma's revenues? But on the other hand, why should the U.S. government and patients pay more than anyone else? Keep an eye on this one; it has huge implications for the way drugs and prices are regulated in the U.S. 

- read the WSJ story