Steal Big, Steal Bigger?

(Here’s the From the Editor page of my magazine this month)

A recent New York Times article, “Fraud Kicks in Months Ahead of Medicare Drug Discount Card,” discussed the practice of con artists going door-to-door selling ‘Medicare-approved’ drug discount cards, despite the fact that the drug discount program has yet to be instituted and enrollment doesn’t begin for a few more months. This con preys on the fears and vulnerabilities of the elderly and the infirm, for whom prescription drugs are an utter necessity. People who perpetrate this scam are base, venal liars who should go to jail.

Who on earth can wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and say, “I’m going to go out today and defraud desperate, uninformed people’? I mean, besides Congress and the White House. After all, what should be done to the people who pushed the Medicare prescription plan through Congress while lying about its projected cost? There’s fraud, and then there’s $134 billion dollars in costs that were conveniently ignored till the bill was passed.

President Bush, who’s already run budget deficits beyond the wildest dreams of any supply-side economist (please note that I’m referring to massive growth in domestic, discretionary spending, not military spending, which I believe is warranted), contended that he would only promote a plan with a total cost of $400 billion. So the plan was shoe-horned to fit that number and gain approval, but “revised estimates” now show it will reach an estimated $534 billion.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me how much I think the Medicare prescription drug benefit plan would ultimately cost. I facetiously replied, “All the money in Moneyville.” It’s my belief that the plan will never actually come to fruition and has been pushed through Congress as a means to win the votes of senior citizens. To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t always been this cynical, but this level of mendacity is maddening, regardless of which political party perpetrates it.

The vote to approve the plan largely fell on partisan lines. I write ‘largely’ because some Republicans did fail to vote for the White House’s program. One of those Representatives, Nick Smith (R-MI), claimed he was offered $100,000 toward his son’s Congressional campaign in exchange for a vote in favor of the plan. As Robert Novak, a right-wing political columnist, wrote last November:

“On the House floor, Nick Smith was told business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father’s vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, [Rep.] Duke Cunningham [R-CA] and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat.”

Why did Rep. Smith stick to his guns and vote against the plan? Because he feared the White House was underestimating (not necessarily lying about) the cost of the plan!

As Bob Dylan once ‘sang,’ “Steal a little and they throw you in jail / Steal a lot and they make you king.”

–Gil Roth

P.S.: In a similar vein, I’m happy that ImClone’s Erbitux received FDA approval for treating advanced metastatic colon cancer, and I hope that the drug helps extend the lives (and the quality of life) for cancer patients and shows effectiveness in treating other types of cancer. The former chief executive officer of ImClone, Samuel Waksal, was also pretty happy about the approval. In a recent statement, he wrote, “My drug is everything I said it was and it would not be here were it not for me.”

The only problem I can find with this remark is this: Dr. Waksal wrote it from jail, where he will spend seven years of his life for trying to illegally dump every last share he owned of ImClone, because he knew the FDA was going to reject the drug’s initial NDA.

Don’t get me wrong; we’re all delusional in our own way, but when your words disconnect that much from your actions, you belong in one of two places: jail or Washington, D.C.

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