AS MAJORITY LEADER of the Maine Senate, Chellie Pingree
watched senior citizens cross the border into Canada to buy prescription
drugs for far less than they pay in the United States. On
one such trip, the group saved $19,000.
A few years later, as Common Cause President and CEO, Pingree
watched in horror as Congress passed a Medicare bill that
prohibits the U.S. government from negotiating the best price.
And she’s steamed. On a visit to Penn Law in March, Pingree,
using the battle over Medicare as a case study, railed against the
pernicious influence of big money in politics, and how special
interests continue to pervert democracy.
Speaking at an event sponsored by the Penn Law American
Constitution Society, Pingree said the Medicare bill, which takes
effect in 2006, will ultimately hurt the people it is supposed to
benefit: senior citizens.
“We are paying the highest prices in the world because our
government has been unwilling to negotiate for the best possible
price,” said Pingree.
Pingree said pharmaceutical companies, which generate more
than half the profits of all the Fortune 500 companies, worked
feverishly to protect their investment. The industry spent $120
million to lobby Congress and state officials, and employed
seven lobbyists per senator, she said.
And to make matters worse, she said, the pharmaceutical
industry had friends in government. Medicare head John Scully,
a former industry executive, sought a job with a lobbying firm for drug companies while deliberations over the bill were taking place.
But such conflicts of interest need not mar the political process,
she said, pointing to Maine as an example of good government.
Maine, where elections are publicly financed, was the first
state to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform. While she
led the Senate, the state also approved a prescription drug bill,
Maine Rx Plus, that is expected to provide deep discounts to
275,000 uninsured residents.