Why Politicians Are Saying Yes to Drugs

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Why, you may ask, in this pivotal election year, when candidates across the land are scurrying to find the Third Way between traditional partisan platforms, have politicos of all stripes embraced the traditionally liberal cause of government intervention into making prescription drugs more affordable? In the past month we've seen a handful of House Republicans champion plans for offering prescription drug aid to the elderly, and even George W. Bush and Al Gore have sparred over which of them will better serve America's seniors in their most desperate hours. In fact, this is the issue on which Gore's been willing to go furthest to the left (he even accused Bill Bradley of giving the issue short shrift). The veep recently signed on to President Clinton's plan to devote nearly $200 billion to extending Medicare coverage to prescription drugs, and seemed to turn a blind eye to Wall Street by saying that the drug companies drastically overcharge consumers — a hint at the sort of market intervention the center-hugging Gore has heretofore avoided.

So why the drug craze? The answer may lie in a bit of insecurity underlying the nation's current economic prosperity. Sure, housing starts and luxury SUV sales are up, but our economic (not to mention medical) future is less certain. Horror stories abound of seniors whose medical bills exceed their monthly Social Security stipends, capped by this week's news that a study by the advocacy group Families USA has found that the prescription drugs most often used by seniors outpaced the national inflation rate by 50 percent in the past year. Put it all together and you have an issue with such broad appeal that it offers Republicans a chance to show their moderate side and also allows Democrats to earn their liberal stripes with the party's core. And that's a prescription for reform of the way our seniors finance their pharmaceuticals.