Barbara Dreyfuss

Recent Articles

The Illness Department

Lost in the frenzied discussion about who is winning the lottery for a flu shot and how much price gouging is going on for the remaining vials is the question of how much George W. Bush's politicization of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) played in creating this crisis. Over the past four years, the agency has been largely taken over by free-market ideologues and officials with close ties to regulated industry. Key Bush administration appointees at the FDA include acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford, who worked for the food manufacturers; an assistant legislative commissioner who worked for the biotechnology industry; and an acting deputy commissioner of policy who worked for the chemical industry. But perhaps most important in bringing the FDA into a cozy relationship with the drug industry has been its chief counsel, Daniel Troy. With Troy's appointment, the agency's top legal post went -- for the first time in decades -- from being run by a civil servant to being run by a...

Cheap Trick

Back in 1996, Terry Johnson, the human-resources director for Ada County, Idaho, was excited about his new health-care coverage. He had just helped the county become the first in the United States to offer employees a medical savings account (MSA) as an alternative to traditional indemnity health insurance, and he was eager to try it. The accounts would be exempt from state taxes up to $2,000. Under the program, Johnson would contribute $900 to this account and his employer, the county, would contribute the remaining $1,100. Johnson could use that money for medical expenses, and if he remained healthy and didn't use it up that year, it would carry over to the next year. He could even withdraw the money for any other use, although he would pay taxes on it (and if he was not yet 59, he would also pay a 10-percent penalty). Along with this he would have an insurance plan. The one catch: He would be responsible for the first $2,000 in costs should he become sick. But the idea was that the...

The Seduction

Last July, as the debate over a Medicare prescription-drug bill heated up, AARP, the nation's largest senior-citizen lobbying organization with some 35 million members, sent a letter to Congress detailing issues that "must be fixed" before it could endorse a final bill. Among the group's chief concerns were "program structure and the adequacy and affordability of the benefit package." If the legislation "does more harm than good," AARP warned, the group would oppose it. Coverage in the press painted an ominous picture: AARP might be ready to pull the plug on the drug bill. In the White House, aides to presidential adviser Karl Rove were worried. They were counting on AARP to help them enact a drug benefit that President Bush could champion in his re-election bid. Now it seemed that AARP was threatening to hang tough on key issues that the Republicans would have a hard time endorsing. The conference committee was getting ready to work on a final bill. Democrats, largely excluded from...