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Commentary

Commentary: Good Drug, Bad Customers - II
Holman W. Jenkins Jr., Wall Street Journal, 2-23-05

When it comes to Vioxx there is plenty of blame to go around—and not all of it for the FDA and industry. Doctors and insurers should also come in for some well deserved criticism.

Holman Jenkins has been arguing this case for months and points out that if Vioxx returns to the markets “big winners will be patients” who will have another option for managing serious chronic pain, and doctors who “have reason to be gratified as well”, since no one has taken them to task for peddling a $2 pill when a 15 cent one would have done as well for the vast majority of patients.

In Jenkins opinion, “the big loser would be the insurance industry. It’s attitude toward prescription drugs is ‘we don’t want to pay for them’ unless they save money by reducing the need for expensive hospital visits. Prescription drugs for mild chronic pain don’t readily fit this description…So how come insurers spent $5.6 billion on Cox-2s in 2003”? [Ed: emphasis added]

In fact, studies have shown that the better a patient’s insurance coverage, the more likely they were to be placed on Vioxx. “Insurance companies have been forced to become America’s primary purchasers of health services but are vilified if they ever say ‘no’ to a patient. No wonder they did a characteristically inept job of making sure we got our money’s worth from Cox-2 spending.”

The problem is that the main people spending on health care—employers—get a tax write-off for their expense, allowing them to shift more benefits to workers without bearing the full cost. “The sad truth is that neither doctors nor insurers nor GM are prepared to sacrifice a huge tax benefit for ‘health insurance’ even while they whimper about the consequences and beg the government to do something about it.”



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