If memory serves me correctly, one of the biggest campaign issues of — well, earlier this month — was Medicare prescription drug prices. But Kevin Drum alerts us to the pragmatic post-election realities:
For some reason, this has been "Democrats Are In A Fix Over Medicare" weekend, with nearly identical stories in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the LA Times explaining that Democratic promises to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices are shaping up to be trickier than anyone thought. Oddly, though, none of the pieces really explains what the problem is. They just repeat complaints from the pharmaceutical industry that Medicare is so big that "negotiation" is tantamount to price controls, and that's a bad thing.
And so it is. But there's a fairly simple solution to this, one that only the Wall Street Journal even bothers to mention:
[An] approach Democrats could try would be requiring drug makers to give Medicare beneficiaries their lowest price, as companies must for Medicaid, the state-federal health-insurance program for the poor and disabled.
This, of course, is common practice in the business world, where large buyers routinely negotiate "most favorable pricing" clauses into their contracts. It also addresses the most infuriating aspect of current pharmaceutical policy: the bulk of the companies and the bulk of the R&D in the pharmaceutical industry are done in America, but for some reason consumers in every other country in the world get lower-priced drugs than Americans.
I'm sure there has been no lack of K Street money rushing in to prove to Democrats how impractical these kinds of measures would be, but I believe it would be a serious mistake to think that the desire for change in this area is not deeply held and long term and capable of swaying the electorate. Have a look at Henry Farrell's discussion of the new Jacob Hacker The Great Risk Shift from yesterday — people are feeling extraordinary anxiety when it comes to health care and health care risks and costs, and Medicare prescription drug prices are just the very tip of the problem, not some end-of-game goalposts that can be moved by gentle persuasion and quiet subterfuge. I don't think that simply telling people only three weeks later that "it can't be done" is going to satisfy much of anyone.