Commentary: So much for drug companies' promises

Is the support of the pharmaceutical industry needed for Congress to pass health care reform? Or is the price of that support too high for the people the reform package is trying to help?

Those questions took on new urgency with the release of an AARP study finding that drug makers had raised the wholesale price of brand-name drugs by 9%, or $10 billion, in the past year. That's the biggest price increase in 17 years.

What particularly outraged opponents of "Big Pharma" is that the industry's lobbyists had made a deal with the Obama administration and key Senate leaders to do just the opposite. In agreeing to support the health care overhaul, the pharmaceutical industry pledged to cut up to $80 billion in prescription costs over the next decade -- although many of the details of how this would be accomplished were never made public.

In return, Medicare, a huge buyer of prescription drugs, was barred from negotiating lower prices or directing recipients away from expensive medicines when cheaper, equally effective options were available.

For certain House Democrats, the prescription price hike was more evidence of the industry's chicanery. That distrust is the main reason the House didn't sign on to the Obama administration's deal, and came up with its own list of ways to cut drug company payments.

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