COMMENTS: Medicine Men

Only ABC covered a plan by Democratic leaders Rep John Dingell and Sen Edward Kennedy to provide universal healthcare coverage. ABC's in-house physician Timothy Johnson (no link) outlined the proposal to extend either Medicare or the federal workers' healthcare program to the entire population. Johnson praised the latter as "politically brilliant" because opponents would have to vote against coverage for others that they themselves enjoy. As for winners and losers, Johnson envisioned big savings--costs declining from 13% of payroll to 7%--for employers who already offer healthcare and increased taxes--from 0% of payroll to 7%--for those who provide none.

NBC's Robert Bazell looked at the army of sales representatives deployed by Big Pharma. Some physicians get as many as ten visits each day, with the sales force usually bringing free prescription drug samples, often bearing gifts such as free meals. Bazell weighed the ethics, but not the economics, of these marketing efforts: the free samples do help uninsured patients get medication; they also act as a starter kit that can lead to lifetime use. Bazell cited a new survey that found that only 6% of physicians keep the reps at arm's length. He did not address the extent to which this massive sales effort inflates prescription drug prices.


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