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Mon May 19, 2014 at 11:56 AM PDT

Fracking Confidential

by akmk

There is a leak from a wellhead near Tioga, North Dakota. And much is being learned about "fracking confidential".

An oil well near Tioga, ND hasn’t stopped leaking oil since local emergency officials were notified of the spill on Friday. But because the well is under a confidentiality agreement that makes some of the well’s information a secret, details such as the spill’s aren’t being released to the public. Alison Ritter, spokesperson for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, told ThinkProgress that because of the well’s confidentiality, only a few things about the well could be released to the public: the well’s operator, name, file and identification number, location (in coordinates), and the date that the company’s confidentiality agreement lifts...Ritter said confidential wells are common in North Dakota — 18 percent of the state’s oil and gas wells are confidential, and her agency publishes a list of them on its website. She said most well operators in the state apply for confidentiality status for their wells at the time of permitting to protect information on production and other “proprietary” data.

Because we can...

...Jack Ekstrom, Whiting Petroleum’s vice president of government affairs, explained the desire for well owners to seek confidentiality status to the blog “the Barrel” in 2012:

“If you have a significant completion, and there is acreage available, you don’t want that particular completion to be made public until you have leased as much acreage as you possibly can around it,” he said.

He also had a simpler reason, though — “because we can.” In North Dakota, as the Barrel article points out (and Ritter confirmed), all requests for confidentiality are approved without any requirements for well operators to justify why they should be granted confidentiality...

North Dakota is in the midst of a boom, for better (for some) or for worse (for others). A complacent public hungry for jobs may favor being light on regulations and choose to live with consequences. The rest of the story is yet to be told.

More transparency is needed in the fracking industry

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Most Alaskans like Sen. Mark Begich, even those with libertarian and conservative leanings, even those with leanings more progressive.

Sen. Begich is solid representation for Alaska who strongly, and without apology, supports women's rights, strengthening Social Security and affordable access to healthcare for all.

He has signed the We the People, Alaska, pledge affirming that Constitutional rights apply to human beings only, not to corporations.

As the first member of Congress or candidate for federal office to sign the Alaska Constitution Pledge, Senator Begich is challenging his opponents to declare their allegiance: they must either commit themselves to the people of Alaska or to the billionaire corporations from outside of Alaska that profit from influencing our elections and drafting self-serving legislation.
Alaska needs Sen. Begich and the country needs Sen. Begich. And Sen. Begich is holding his own in the upcoming Senatorial campaign. He has proved himself a team player in Washington D.C. and he has the respect of many.

Cue this Washington Post Story:

This year, a different kind of fortune will be made: Owners of local television stations are raking in millions of dollars in political advertisements. And for all the hand-wringing about outside conservative interests pouring early money into key races, in Alaska it’s Democrats who have fueled a more traditional advertising boom.

Sen. Mark Begich (D) and two groups backing his campaign have purchased a combined $6.4 million in television time for the final sprint between Labor Day and Election Day, a crucial stretch when voters begin to tune in and pay attention to candidates seeking their votes.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Monday purchased at least $3 million in advertising beginning Sept. 23 and running through Nov. 4. That money will buy about 1,000 gross ratings points per week in the Anchorage and Fairbanks media markets. Put Alaska First, a super PAC funded largely by the Senate Majority PAC, has plunked down $3.2 million over the same period, worth another 1,000 gross ratings points in those two markets. Both committees are buying smaller amounts in the Juneau market, which has just one network television station, an ABC affiliate.

Begich’s campaign has started making its own reservations, too, buying $230,000 in ads scheduled to run over the final three weeks before Election Day at about half the levels of the outside groups.

Yes, outside money and outside interests are pouring money into Alaska to attempt to unseat Sen. Begich. Condoleezsa Rice has spoken out on behalf of Republican Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan, her former employee, in an ad for American Crossroads.

The ad marks one of Rice's first endorsements of the 2014 election cycle, and Crossroads's first decision to support a Republican candidate who faces a competitive primary.

In the ad, Rice responds to recent criticism from both Democrats and his GOP opponents that Sullivan is a carpetbagger. He grew up in Ohio and moved from Alaska to the Washington, D.C., area early last decade to work at the White House before serving under Rice on the National Security Council and at the State Department.

"Dan Sullivan is tireless in his defense of this country. He showed that in his service in the military, and he showed that in his service in the White House and in the State Department," Rice says in the ad. "Now, Dan faces political attacks because he wanted his family by his side. Remember that serving our country required some time in our capital. Dan will be a great senator because he loves and cares for the state of Alaska, and he's a great family man."

Sullivan is vying with Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R) and 2010 Senate nominee Joe Miller (R) for the right to face Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) in the general election.

Crossroads is spending $180,000 on the ad and is airing it statewide.

Alaskans, however, know Dan Sullivan, former AG for Sarah Palin, most recently as Commission of Alaska's Department of Natural Resources. In such capacity, Mr. Sullivan has made it clear that public input from Alaskans on important water and land-use decisions don't matter squat. He has been an integral part of Alaska's current sorry administration in state government that chooses to exploit resources without regard for public input by pushing to streamline permitting by virtually eliminating public process. Dan Sullivan is not pro-choice, unless the term applies to corporations. He would gut the power of the EPA and weaken regulations for clean air and water.

Senator Begich provides worthy representation for Alaskans and support for Sen. Begich, however small financially, will help a lot in keeping this well-liked (by Alaskans) and important advocate for middle-class Americans across the country Senator in office. You may make a donation here.


I pledge to support Sen. Begich

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This is Alaska's loss and Stanford's gain. House Minority Leader Rep. Beth Kerttula announced today her resignation from the Alaska legislature to accept a fellowship at the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University in California, for at least one year, maybe two.

One of Alaska's smartest, ethical, and most personable legislators, Kerttula will be sorely missed by progressives in Alaska.

...Before her first election to the House from Juneau in 1998, Kerttula, 58, an attorney, worked with the state's Coastal Zone Management program as an assistant attorney general under independent Gov. Wally Hickel and Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles. She also worked for the state on several big pipeline tariff lawsuits against oil companies before she joined the Legislature...
This is Beth. If you are interest in oceans, climate, the Arctic, particularly on the West Coast, keep an eye on her. She'll be the only one on Stanford's committee with legislative/policy experience to help integrate science with policy.

 photo Beth-Kerttula_zps6683fc3b.jpg

Anchorage Daily News story here:

Kerttula, 58, has been in the Alaska legislature since 1998. She has been SE Alaska's leading star as far as progressive Democrats go in Alaska.  Redistricting may have put some extra pressure on her, as she has seen her legislative boundaries stretched outside of Juneau and adding several smaller communities in SE. New for 2012. And new once again for 2014, as lines once again changed.

The legislative shuffle begins and will see House Minority leadership shift from Juneau to Anchorage.  

Anchorage Rep. Chris Tuck, 47, the Democrat's minority whip, will take over as minority leader. Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, will assume Tuck's job as whip. Two of Kerttula's staff members who work with the caucus, including spokesman Mark Gnadt, will work for Tuck. Her two other staff members, including the Democrat's oil-tax guru, Ken Alper, will likely occupy the empty District 32 representative office until her successor is appointed, she said.

Kerttula said her resignation will be effective Friday at 5 p.m.

It's hard to speculate on the larger implications. Kerttula has long been viewed as the strongest candidate to run for Alaska Senate, representing Juneau and northern SE communities, should a Senate vacancy, currently held by Dennis Egan, become vacant in the future. Without Beth, the odds increase for a chance at that future Senate seat to be won by Rep. Cathy Munoz, a popular representative among the ALEC crowd in Juneau, and Beth's polar opposite politically.

It's been no secret that the current legislature, due to grievous redistricting maneuvers by Alaska's GOP, is Alaska's worst legislature ever. The House minority was reduced to 10 out of 40 prior to Kerttula's departure.  

According to Alaska law, Gov. Parnell will appoint a replacement submitted out of three names submitted by Alaska's Democratic Party. Kerttula leaves shoes that will be hard to fill.

The final chapter is yet to written:

Kerttula said the visiting fellowship was a dream job for her in the private university's new Center for Ocean Solutions, a consortium between Stanford, the Stanford law school, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The fellowship was only offered to her last week. She and her husband will relocate to the Bay area for the duration of the job, but expect to return to Juneau when it ends in a year or two.
In the meantime, consider this a major political shakeup for Alaska, and particularly for Southeast. And perhaps some interesting activity on a different front.

Kerttula said she will work with academics and scientists on issues related to climate change, ocean acidification and the Arctic.

"I don't think I can overestimate my experience with coastal-zone management," she said. While she didn't have all the details on the fellowship, she said, "I know that what they were really interested in is my idea to bring together West Coast legislators and policy makers with scientists and people studying the ocean issues and to try to move that forward in the legislative realm."
A little history here from Alaska Dispatch involving a vacant Senate seat in 2009 (when Sen. Kim Elton left to work for Obama Administration) and former Gov. Sarah Palin, when Alaska Democrats put forth Kerttula's name for replacement. Palin refused to appoint Kerttula to the position, which probably tells you more than anything how well qualified Kerttula was and is to be Senator in AK legislature or anything else she wants to be.)

Her resignation will mean the selection of a new leader for the Democratic House minority, as well as a new appointment to the downtown Juneau legislative seat Kerttula has held since 1999. That process, however, is unlikely to be a repeat of the bitter battle over the Juneau state Senate seat held by former Sen. Kim Elton, who resigned in 2009 to join the Obama Administration with the Department of Interior.

Kerttula had sought the appointment to Elton's vacant seat, but then-Gov. Sarah Palin, still smarting over Kerttula's support for the candidacy of Barack Obama, was unwilling to appoint Kerttula. Juneau Democrats broke with tradition and instead of giving Palin a slate of three options to choose from, submitted only Kerttula's name for the nomination.

Palin responded by seeking nominations for the position on her own, but her nominees were then unable to win the required confirmation from Senate Democrats.

Eventually, former Juneau Mayor Dennis Egan was confirmed as senator, with the support of Kerttula, the Democrats and Palin.


This may be the worst flooding ever experienced in Colorado.

Some AP photos here:

Twitter has some harrowing first person stories.


National Guard and FEMA being sent in.

Roads, bridges crumble. Houses collapse.

Wishing all our Colorado friends the best today. Hang in there. You are not alone.

Continue Reading

Congress and the President need to pay more attention to the home front and needs of its citizens. One example of matter needing attention is Medicare payment for hospital stays that are classified, sometimes up to a year or more after the fact, as "observation stays" rather than "inpatient" stays. Semantics that can be costly to people in need of care.

Medicare will only pay for nursing home care if a patient is admitted to the home at the recommendation of a doctor and only after three days stay in a hospital. However, the increasing use of "observation status" for hospital stays of up to even ten days is resulting in denial of reimbursement of care needs for Medicare patients.

One example of a situation is described in this article in the Boston Globe.

Harold Engler recently spent 10 days in a Boston teaching hospital, trying to snap back from complications after urgent hernia surgery. Nurses provided around-the-clock treatment, changing the 91-year-old’s catheter, for example, and pumping him with intravenous drugs for suspected pneumonia.

It all seemed like textbook hospital care to his wife, Sylvia. So she was shocked to learn that Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center had never “admitted” her husband at all.

“Mrs. Engler, we have bad news for you. This was marked ‘medical observation,’ ” said a nurse at the nursing home where her husband was sent for rehabilitation. The hospital had decided Harold Engler was not sick enough to qualify as an official “inpatient.”

It is a striking example of just how impenetrable the US health care system can be for those who use it. Thousands of Medicare enrollees in Massachusetts and across the country are finding themselves caught in the same perplexing bind: Despite long hospital stays, they have been deemed observation patients or outpatients whose follow-up care is not covered. They also can face higher costs for the hospital stay itself when they are not officially admitted.
Here's an example from Ohio:
Last September, Theresa McGarry fell in a parking lot and fractured her hip. She spent nine days at Fairview Hospital and then -- over her objections; she wanted to go home to her apartment in North Olmsted — she was whisked by ambulance to ManorCare for three weeks of rehab.

Almost a year later, the 83-year-old lives with two reminders of that mishap -- a limp and the lawsuit ManorCare filed against her for $6,000.

Ordinarily, Medicare covers a senior’s care at a nursing home as long as it’s preceded by a three-night “in-patient” stay at a hospital. But Fairview never formally admitted McGarry. Instead, for nine nights running, Fairview listed her status as “observation.” That distinction stripped McGarry of her Medicare coverage for skilled nursing care.

The article explains why this is happening...Medicare rules (that may be unclear) and the hospital's desire to protect their own bottom line by not "admitting" patients who they may be unsure may qualify for reimbursement from Medicare as "inpatients."
Vincent Mor, who studies health policy at Brown University, says hospitals that push more patients into observation generally do so because of the risks to their own bottom line.

If a hospital admits a patient and a Medicare auditor later second-guesses the admission, Medicare can claw back its payments, Mor said. “If Medicare disallows the payments,” he said, “they can’t change their minds and say it’s observation status.”

There’s enough confusion around the issue that the inspector general says that last year Medicare may have tripped over its rules and improperly paid for 23,000-odd nursing home stays that didn’t have a qualifying hospital stay beforehand, even though patients were in the hospital at least three days. Roughly 2,000 others, like McGarry, were just plain out of luck. On average, they wound up paying about $10,000 apiece.

Those bills often come as a surprise to patients.

Fortunately one Democrat in the Senate is paying attention and attempting a Congressional fix:
“Doctors don’t like it. Nursing homes don’t like it. The patients don’t like it,” Callow said of the Medicare observation rules. “It’s so rare you find that kind of consensus."

Changing the rule, though, may take an act of Congress. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Democrat representing Ohio, has introduced a bill that would require Medicare to count the observation time a patient spends in the hospital toward a qualifying hospital stay. That bill also proposes retroactively reimbursing observation patients whose nursing home care bills were denied.

“We don’t think it’s widespread,” Brown said, “but even if it was only two times, it’s too many.”

A similar bill is gaining sponsors in the House.

The particulars of the bill and how you can support are outlined here:
On March 14, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced Improving Access to Medicare Coverage Act (S. 569), a bill that would specify that hospital stays under observation would count toward the 3-day hospitalization requirement for Medicare coverage of post-acute care. Patients that receive hospital care on "observation status" do not qualify for this benefit, even if their hospital stay lasts longer than 3 days.

The observation days problem affects residents and clients of all LeadingAge members, including residents of senior housing or home-based services clients who are hospitalized and released to nursing homes. They are all at risk of substantial out-of-pocket costs for post-acute care without this corrective legislation.

Please help us persuade Congress to solve this problem that affects so many Medicare beneficiaries and skilled nursing facilities. Contact your legislators and urge them to cosponsor the corrective legislation.

Here's the link for sending a message to your legislators to support Brown's bill.
For yourself and that of seniors you know and love, please take this simple action to help fix a serious problem.

I support Sherrod Brown's (D-Ohio) bill to make this fix.

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So how could a train with over 70 full tankers of petroleum disengage from its locomotives while parked on a hill above a populated community?  Here's how.

The air brakes on the runaway oil train that devastated a Quebec town early Saturday had been disabled by firefighters who were called to extinguish a blaze aboard one of the locomotives 90 minutes before the disaster, the head of the railway said Monday.
And where have we heard this type of callous response before??
He told Reuters that firefighters had shut down the locomotive while they battled the fire, which was apparently caused by a broken oil or fuel line. But the train's crew had left the engine idling to keep the air brakes pressurized so the train wouldn't roll, said Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway.

Lambert said the local railway dispatcher was contacted to report the engine fire had been put out. "We told them what we did and how we did it," he said.

"There was no discussion of the brakes at that time," he added. "We were there for the train fire. As for the inspection of the train after the fact, that was up to them."

And for those who say pipelines are the answer:

Underground pipeline spills an estimated 25,000 of gasoline on Crow Reservation in Montana  


Who to trust to be concerned about people's safety?

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Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 05:14 PM PDT

One Final Tribute to Randy Udall

by akmk

Nice tribute to Randy Udall here:

The article linked above includes these comments from Randy's friend Auden Schendler:

If there is one quantum of solace, it is that Randy appears to have died very quickly, of perhaps a heart attack or stroke, mid-stride, outward bound on a flat high bench, off trail in the Wind River Range, his favorite place on earth. Just as we ought to be, he was girded for battle. He had his pack on his back, hiking poles in hand, certainly feeling the lightness and joy we all feel heading out on a new journey.

Under a vast, clear and blue Wyoming sky, he came to rest on his side. He was finally, to quote Stanley Kunitz, one of his favorite poets:

    … absolved and free
    of his burdens, those mottoes
    stamped on his name-tag:
    conscience, ambition, and all
    that caring….
    Peace! Peace!
    To be rocked by the Infinite!
    As if it didn’t matter
    which way was home;
    as if he didn’t know
    he loved the earth so much
    he wanted to stay forever.


Randy Udall, brother to Sen. Mark Udall, and not someone we want to lose has been reported missing in the Rocky Mountains (Wind River Range) of Wyoming.

Randy Udall, green energy advocate, healthy watershed advocate, all-around good guy environmentally and politically and in every way humanly possible is not someone we want to lose.

I met Randy a few years ago at a solar array dedication at Rocky Mountain School, a private high school in Carbondale, Colorado, adjacent to the neighborhood in which I used to live. Such a likeable guy.

Hoping for the best, but am quite concerned.

Here's some further info from Aspen Business Journal.

Randy Udall, a Carbondale resident and nationally known energy expert, is missing after he went backpacking alone in the rugged Wind River Mountains of Wyoming.

He was reported overdue on Friday.

Udall, 61, is also the brother of Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado and a cousin of Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico. He was the original director for the Community Office for Resource Efficiency in the Roaring Fork Valley, and he co-founded the Association for the Study of Peak-Oil. Udall has been a vocal critic of hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, and its impacts on the environment. His friends and family say he is an avid hiker and outdoorsman who had hiked in the Wind River Mountains on multiple occasions over the span of 30 years.

Authorities say Udall began his hike June 20 and was expected to return to civilization six days later.

"Mark is concerned about his brother's whereabouts, and he continues to closely monitor the situation. He and his family hope for the best," according to a statement from Sen. Mark Udall's office.

Wish I had superpowers to fly the Wind River range, zero in on Randy and bring him home safe and sound.

Updates below the orange squiggly.

Continue Reading

Details will take awhile to flow in, but this is a huge tragedy.

PRESCOTT - The Prescott Fire Department lost nearly its entire crew today - the Granite Mountain Hotshots - with 18 firefighters dying and one surviving.
Hot Shot fire crews everywhere, we honor you.
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Six tankers loaded with petroleum hang over the swollen Bow River in Calgary as train derails and bridge fails.

It appears the jinx is definitely on Calgary right now. So sorry for the innocent victims, but it does appear that the petroleum industry in Alberta may be contributing to these problems in that tar sands oil production affects climate change.  And tankers with hazardous petroleum product now hover precariously over the Bow River.


Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 09:23 PM PDT

Wild Fish Stocks Win One

by akmk

It's been a hard-fought battle of over twenty years. The warriors were getting weary. Still the voices of the people, speaking for the voiceless fish and wildlife of a most extraordinary watershed in Southeast Alaska near Haines, ultimately prevailed.

Just as we were preparing for another round, Alaska Power & Telephone, the utility company with the proposed boondoggle of a hydro-project in the Upper Chilkoot Watershed finally threw in their towel. The sweet message arrived today from FERC and from a rare (dedicated to both the resource and the commenting public) Alaska public official, Monte Miller, FERC's liasion with Alaska Department of Fish & Game for FERC hydro-project proposals in Alaska.

Image Hosted by

Here's the image that speaks a bit of what we were fighting for...a spawning sockeye in Bear Creek, a tributary to the portion of the Chilkoot River that is above Chilkoot Lake.

Image Hosted by

There's more, so much more that this watershed means to us.  A mere twenty miles long, Chilkoot supports over a million dollars worth of commercial sockeye catch per year for local fishermen. It sustains the traditional lifestyles of a strong and vibrant Tlingit and rural Alaskan subsistence population.  It supports a spring eulachon run that in turn supports birds, sea lions, and people. It supports sockeye, pink, chum, and coho salmon. It supports mountain goats, moose, otters, wolves, coyotes, so many bears, mostly Alaska Coastal brown bears, mink, bald eagles, osprey, ducks, gulls, song birds, dippers, people, tourism, and much, much more.

The project would have required a large dam and road access, power lines, tons of fill hauled into the salmon spawning grounds above Chilkoot Lake that is part of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.

Why was industry able to keep this fight going for such a risky project for so long in the presence of such a valuable resource? Politicians were willing to keep throwing money at it. Bureaucrats doing the same old rubber stamping of anything that smells of growth and development. People who take the most valuable things in life for granted and don't imagine that they can actually be jeopardized by a hydro-project wrongly-sized and wrongly-placed.

Why did the fish win this one? A collection of good folks willing to speak out for the resources they value, over, and over, and over, and over again, creating an ever widening circle of voices and involvement for that which matters.

To keep up with the Chilkoot Watershed of Haines, Alaska, feel free to join "Friends of Chilkoot" on Facebook.

Or check in with the Chilkoot Watershed Coaltion website at:

In the meantime, celebrate with us however you wish. A black cloud over one of earth's most special places has, for now, been lifted.


Medicare, Part D, prescription drug plans are frequently not available for low-income Americans who do not qualify for Medicaid. (The asset tests to qualify for help leave out many who still must choose their priorities.)

According to a tracking report at,

The most vulnerable people—the uninsured, those with low incomes, people in fair or poor health, and those with multiple chronic conditions—continued to face the most unmet prescription needs. For example, 48 percent of uninsured people in fair or poor health went without a prescription drug because of cost concerns in 2010, almost double the rate of insured people with the same reported health status.
Too often seniors go without care for chronic or acute conditions, ultimately leading to more critical and expensive medical emergencies and conditions that the taxpayers ultimately end up paying for through Medicaid when seniors spend down their assets or otherwise qualify for Medicaid.  Low-income, moderate asset seniors are already juggling priorities and stretching their resources as far as possible to maintain their independence from public assistance. This frequently means no prescription drug coverage and not having real access to preventive care that would actually improve health, despite being covered by Medicare Parts A and B, and perhaps even a Medigap policy.

Folks with moderate assets have to make tough choices on what policies to buy and what chances to take.  Frequently they are making these choices on Social Security checks of less, or much less, than $700/month.

The Affordable Care Act that will be kicking in in 2014 will help some younger and working folks, but also will still leave the loopholes that Medicare Part D programs are allowed.  These include significatn deductibles, co-pays, and other limitations.

In 2014, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is expected to extend prescription drug coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans via expansions in Medicaid eligibility and subsidized private coverage in health insurance exchanges. Although prescription drug coverage is an “essential benefit” to be provided by health plans participating in the state health insurance exchanges, flexibility in plan design leaves room for benefit limits, including patient cost sharing, prior authorization, preferred drug lists, dispensing limits and other utilization management tools, that may affect gains in access.
According to "Bitter Pill" in Time Magazine, Congress could help significantly by changing the law the disallows the government from negotiating for better prescription drug costs.  Some estimate that negotiating for better prescription drug prices would save more than we are saving with the job-killing, nonsensical sequester cuts.
We should amend patent laws so that makers of wonder drugs would be limited in how they can exploit the monopoly our patent laws give them. Or we could simply set price limits or profit-margin caps on these drugs. Why are the drug profit margins treated as another given that we have to work around to get out of the $750 billion annual overspend, rather than a problem to be solved?

Just bringing these overall profits down to those of the software industry would save billions of dollars. Reducing drugmakers' prices to what they get in other developed countries would save over $90 billion a year. It could save Medicare — meaning the taxpayers — more than $25 billion a year, or $250 billion over 10 years.

Read more:

Lower costs for prescription drugs could lead to lower costs for prescription drug plans as

If the goals are greater health and less cost to the taxpayer for health care, then preventive care, including improved access and more affordable costs for prescription drugs are items that need to be high on the Congressional priority list.


Should Congress negotiate for improved prescription drug costs?

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