Rich Lowry

Democrats hate that Republicans are willing, on the issue of embryonic stem-cell research, to let their straitened moral views supposedly stand in the way of medical progress. But Democrats have their own ethical problem with medical progress - based on their moral qualms about the profit motive.

During the 2006 campaign, Democrats argued that President Bush's prescription-drug program - Medicare Part D - could never be cost-effective unless the government was allowed to negotiate directly with drug companies. According to the Democrats, the ''D'' in Medicare ''Part D'' stood for ''dystopia,'' forcing dazed and confused seniors to be ripped off by ravenous drug companies.

They never bothered to notice that Medicare Part D has been an unexpected success. Perhaps not since JFK's campaign against a nonexistent ''missile gap'' in the 1960 presidential campaign has winning election-year rhetoric been so bogus.

The absence of government negotiations has been key to the program's success. Private health plans negotiate drug prices with the drug companies and then offer a menu - a formulary - of covered drugs through Medicare. Seniors choose among the various plans, picking the one with the drugs they want at the best price.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the robust competition has meant that premiums for the basic drug benefit average $22 per month, 40 percent less than had been projected. Seniors are estimated to be saving, on average, $1,200 a year on drugs, and 80 percent of seniors enrolled in the program are satisfied with it.

Ahh, but somewhere, someone might be making a profit! Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., recently noted that drug companies reaped $8 billion in increased profits in the first six months of Medicare Part D, so ''it's time to protect the interests of the American people.'' Never mind that one factor in the profits, according even to an analysis by liberal lion Rep. Henry Waxman, is ''higher sales volumes of drugs. Many seniors who previously did not have drug coverage now do.''

As it happens, government negotiations of prices won't do any good unless the government is empowered not to offer certain drugs, thus achieving real bargaining power. This would require creating a national formulary - in other words limiting the drugs available to seniors in the Medicare program.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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