Monday marked the 10th anniversary of the Senate's approval of Medicare Plan D, which extended prescription drug coverage for senior citizens. The House had already voted for it.
While few Democrats supported the measure at the time, many now hold Plan D as a positive example of a government-run health plan.
They might want to hold the applause, for while the plan has cost taxpayers less than expected, there is waste as doctors indiscriminately write prescriptions for expensive brand-name drugs even when generic substitutes are available, according to an investigative report by ProPublica, a journalist watchdog group founded by liberal billionaires Herbert and Marion Sandler.
The group reviewed the prescribing habits of 1.6 million practitioners in the country and found a few that cost taxpayers millions.
"Just 913 internists, family medicine and general practice physicians cost taxpayers an extra $300 million in 2011 alone by disproportionately choosing name-brand drugs. These doctors each wrote at least 5,000 prescriptions that year, including refills, and ranked among the program's most prolific prescribers," Pro Publica reported.
What they did was legal, of course, but the ethics are questionable. The investigators cited Dr. Hew Wah Quon of Los Angeles who wrote $27 million worth of prescription in a three-year period.
"All of Quon's patients in 2011 qualified for the low-income subsidy, sometimes called 'Extra Help.' He mostly prescribed name brands, such as AstraZeneca's Crestor, for high cholesterol. Crestor costs more than $6 a pill; the leading generic costs as little as 20 cents," ProPublica reported.
The problem is none of his patients had any incentive to ask for a generic drug. For those who receive the low-income subsidy pay, co-payments are no more than $2.65 for a generic drug and $6.60 for a prescription drug.
As good as Medicare Plan D is, the program needs a major tweaking. If generic drugs are good enough for taxpayers, then no name drugs are good enough for those whom the taxpayers subsidize.
No one wants the government interfering with the doctor-patient relationship, but the doctor-drug company relationship can and should be investigated.