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Drugstore Owners Look to Cash in on Health Care Reform

03/30/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Now they're finished with the postmortem of the Massachusetts Senate victory for Republican Scott Brown, Beltway elites are engaging in a new favorite parlor game: Who's to blame for health care crashing?

Clearly, the original ideology behind reform was built on the very important premise that our country must fix its broken health care system. Many of the health care reform proposals have tried to address areas where our system needs improvement. For example, provisions would extend the age of a child's coverage on their parents' insurance to 27 years old, so that those millions of unemployed 20-somethings can rest easy as they eagerly pursue jobs. Most importantly, it also includes protection for those Americans that are denied health insurance because of pre-existing illnesses.

Essentially, health care reform attempts to reach down and support the fundamentals of what it takes to really improve care and service in this country, by strengthening and promoting programs that train primary health care providers such as physicians and nurses.

However, as the political and legislative war over reform wages on among the Beltway elites of Washington, ordinary citizens continue to wait for something that will actually benefit them. For now, the entrenched drug industry as well as many other special interests trying to secure their place at the table of so-called health care reform efforts seems to be the winners.

When it comes to substantive health care reform, I believe that it is possible. But the American people need to realize that the price being paid for this health care reform is high. There are special interest groups that have won unfair advantages and stand to win at the expense of others.

For example, we all know about the "deal" scored by the powerful drug industry, but other health care lobbies, including independent drugstore owners, have joined the grab-bag fray. These wealthy, conservative independent drugstore owners rake in an average of $4 million a year (!) per store, and typically pay their pharmacists more than $100,000 annually. Even the chief lobbying arm for independent drugstore owners recently touted that independent pharmacies are a "business model that has been sustainable and done very well."

Although not necessarily high profile, independent drugstore owners are nonetheless very influential and important to the larger debate. Sadly, like so many other stakeholders in the reform effort, they give ordinary Americans yet another reason to be frustrated by all of the special interest influence and unnecessary pork spending with which current health care reform efforts are laden.

You would guess independent drugstore owners could afford to lower drug prices right? Think again. Instead, they are aggressively pushing for laws that would make them even richer by increasing drug prices. Currently, there are measures that have been introduced in Congress that will actually increase the cost of prescription drugs while only benefiting the prosperous owners of these independent pharmacies.

Supposedly, this is health reform. But it certainly doesn't sound like the kind of relief that President Obama described on the campaign trail. But let's take a closer look at a few of the more interesting aspects of this one group's agenda. They want new laws which would:

•Penalize consumers who take advantage of a lower cost (or even free) generic by charging them a mandated higher price, while pocketing the sizable difference in cost to pad their own revenue. Under this bill, consumers would be forced to pay for free generic medications.

•Give independent drugstores unprecedented "collective bargaining" rights that would empower them to collude with their competitors to set higher prices.

•Gut proposals to fight drugstore fraud in Medicare.

In the meantime, these provisions do nothing but make independent drugstore owners richer by raising health care costs for consumers. That's not progressive health reform, but just more of the same in Washington. Why Democrats are overlooking this anti-progressive industry is baffling.

As with so many other examples, Americans have a long way to go before they see actionable measures for practical reform come to the fore. Of course, we need to transform our system into a process that operates more efficiently while providing better care. However, too much healthy competition has been eradicated and the unfair advantages of some at the expense of others will ultimately cost hard-working, tax-paying Americans more money.

The good news is that Americans have shown their disdain--starting with the loud message emanating from the Massachusetts election--and, as a result, pork-ridden legislation may now end up in the slaughterhouse.