"The idea of the government negotiating drug prices really isn't about the government negotiating drug prices," Leavitt said. "It's a surrogate for a much larger issue, which is really government-run health care."
"This announcement by our nation's top health official firmly declares the U.S. government as a marketing branch of Big Pharma," Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate and critic of monopoly drug prices. "Big Pharma corruption is so deeply ingrained in our government, and so blatantly pronounced by its defenders, that there's no longer any effort to hide it. Officials are just saying it out loud, that drug companies should not only be allowed to rip off every American consumer who takes medications, but also that drug companies are required by law to do so."
Currently, the insurers of the roughly 22.5 million seniors and disabled enrolled in federally subsidized private plans negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over the price of covered drugs, but the Democrats coming into Congress in January have promised a new approach. The incoming lawmakers have discussed using federal purchasing power to negotiate drug prices, produce substantial savings, and improve the overall program.
Leavitt opposed this move, saying the Democrats should focus on expanding basic health insurance coverage; an issue both parties agree must be addressed.
Adams was not swayed by Leavitt's reasoning.
"Anyone who is not absolutely astonished at the arrogance and corruption of the current administration is simply not paying attention," he said. "We have a national health care system run by monopolists, criminals and professional politicians who have selectively decided that free market principles should not apply to the world of medicine."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced that she would be supporting government negotiation of lower drug prices, and experts say she may be offering that support as the next speaker of the House.
"Requiring the federal government to negotiate on behalf of seniors would generate significant savings, savings which could be used to close the gap in coverage -- or 'doughnut hole' -- that threatens millions of Medicare beneficiaries this year," she said.
"We want to work with Republicans on health care as well as other issues, but misleading rhetoric about 'government-run health care' does not help," said Brendan Daly, a spokesperson for Pelosi. "...Democrats are proposing common-sense improvements to the complex Bush prescription drug program."
Another program supported by the Democrats is one that would involve a government-run drug program to compete with private insurance plans. The Democrats expect seniors to embrace the government plan readily, but Leavitt said the government would not be able to create a plan to satisfy the all the needs of consumers.