This blog features information about the political campaign nationally and in the state of Pennsylvania. it will discuss congressional races western PA, but it won't restrict comments to those jurisdictions. On many occasions, it will feature humor, but its main purpose is to "cut the legs off" political jihad. This is a site for political grown-ups of all ages.

Location: Ambridge, Pennsylvania, United States

I have a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester (English and American Literature). I taught for 10 years at various educational institutions (Univ. of Rochester, my alma mater, College of William and Mary, and University of Georgia, where I was also Asst. Ed. of the Georgia Review. Later, I worked as a speechwriter and "thinker" at various large companies, including Phillips Petroleum, Gulf Oil, Aetna, Merck (consultant), and Eli Lilly (consultant), among many others. I'm a full-time writer and political commentator/analyst. Favorite company: AudioTech Business Books. Favorite female: my wife, Patricia Ann Maloney. Favorite politcal candidate: Diana Lynn Irey (PA's 12th congressional district)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Overpriced Drugs: How You Can (Painlessly) Save Lots of Money

I'd like to welcome as readers -- occasional, or often, it's their choice -- Lynn and Jim Lipchak, two of the finest people in Allegheny County. Lynn was my wife's childhood friend, along with her twin sister, Sandy, and Jim is just basically an American-as-apple-pie guy. I told Lynn today that she and her husband are both members of the "Warrior Nation," a concept based on former Seantor Moynihan's comment in 1990 that, "You must remember, America is a warrior nation." Unforunately, about half the country doesn't qualify for "warrior" status, but we're working on them.

Lynn asked me what this blog is all about. Darn good question, Lynn. I believe it's about helping preserve America as we've known it -- America at its freest, best, and most optimistic -- and especially about sustaining the warrior segment.

Yes, America has a lot of problems. However, most of them are not new, and they are solvable. The American system has built in principles that, when applied, tend to minimize problems if not eliminate them.

One thing I write about a great deal is health care, one of those "problems" that's largely self-inflicted by politicians who want to improve the system by poisoning it. In recent columns, I've demonstrated how we as a society could cut tens-of-billions of dollars from health care expenditures by giving people more information. We also have to explain to people why it makes sense for people, rich and poor, to spend their health care dollars wisely.

Last night, on CBS Evening News (January 23, 2007), there was a segment on an older man who was saving himself $600 a year on medicines. In recent columns, I've pointed out how my wife and I have saved thousands of dollars on drugs (every year) out of our own pockets and out of the government's pocket -- which of course is also the taxpayers' pocket(s).

How had this man accomplished his savings? He'd done so by working with his doctor -- can't leave that out, can we? -- to (1) swtich his anti-cholesterol medication from Pravachol to generic Lovastatin; (2) switch his indigestion medication from branded Nexium, "the purple pill," to over-the-counter Prilosec.

Before the makers of Pravachol sue me, let me note what CBS didn't: Pravachol is also available in lower-cost generic form now, in the form of Pravastatin. But let that pass.

How was the man's cholesterol level doing with the "cheap" Lovastatin? It was lower than when he was on the higher-priced Pravachol.

But how was he doing with the OTC, but cheap, Prilosec compared to the much-touted Nexium? Well, since they're basically the same drug, created by the same manufacturer, he was doing quite well.

In an earlier column, I cited health expert Dr. David Gratzer who -- in his book, The Cure -- cited Nexium as one of the great scams of modern health care. For the vast majority (really vast!) of people, Prilosec will work just as well as Nexium. In fact, before Nexium became the widely advertisted "Purple Pill, guess what the previous "Purple Pill" was? Yep, Prilosec.

Previously, I suggested how the U.S. could save about $10 billion -- not an insignificant amount -- by getting a lot of people off Avandia (for diabetes) and onto Metformin (which costs roughly one-twentieth as much at retail) and by moving many people away from high-priced, branded Lipitor, an anti-cholesterol "statin."

In this column, I've just saved the nation maybe another $10 billion. How? By taking the CBS News guy who saved $600 on his medications and multiplying him by 15 million or so Americans who are in the same boat. Twenty billion in savings isn't exactly chump change, and it may just establish me as a leading candidate for President!

How did the man himself find out how to save so much money? He did so by reading the Consumer Reports "Best Buy Guide" online. If he'd read my column regularly, he'd be saving so much more money he could move to Bridgeville, PA, and buy a house next door to the Lipchaks!

When I'm giving my drug advice, I always ad the caveat that you should consult your doctor, the one who makes the medical evaluations and hands out the prescriptions. In some cases -- and they're relatively rare -- you may need the higher-priced drug. In a few cases, there's absolutely no alternative to a costly drug.

As you're well aware from the hair-raising pharmaceutical ads on TV, all drugs have side-effects. ("If you have an erection lastin more than four hours !!!!!!!!!), for goodness sake dial 9-1-1!) Aspirin has side effects, and so does Tylenol.

However, as I've said, the doctors don't pay (out of their own pockets) for drugs. They get them either free from the pharmaceutical representatives or get them through their top-drawer health plans. So, they may find your concern about drug prices to be slightly mysterious.

Yet the point remains: any dollar over-spent on health care comes back to bite everyone, even people with "great insurance." Overspending raises health care premiums, makes insurance less affordable, and increases taxes.

So, don't overspend on health care! That's an order from the doctor (Ph.D. variety, me).

Steve Maloney has worked over the years for various pharmaceutical companies, who are probably ready to declear him "Public Enemy Number 1," and for a number of health insurers, including Aetna. Welcome, Lynn, and welcome, Jim. By the way, what's true of prescription drugs is also true of other elements of health care, which tend to be much more expensive than they should. I pledge to help bring health care -- kicking, screaming, and litigating -- into the world of private enterprise.


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