Chemical industry about-face welcome but 30 years too late

Like many health, environmental and consumer advocates across the country, I agree with much of Cal Dooley’s op-ed, “The chemical-law formula” (July 7). He is right that the public has lost faith in the government’s ability to protect them from dangerous chemicals, that EPA needs new authority and resources, and that the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act urgently needs to be revised.

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This new message from the president of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), which represents the country’s largest chemical manufacturers, is welcome. But it would be more credible if ACC hadn’t spent the past three decades fiercely defending the law they now find ripe for reform. The ACC worked hand in hand with the Bush administration to weaken the overhaul of Europe’s laws on toxic chemicals. Closer to home, ACC has spent millions of dollars on PR and deployed an army of lobbyists in a largely unsuccessful attempt to defeat state and local efforts to regulate some of the worst-of-the-worst chemicals.

Could it be that ACC’s kinder, gentler public posture on federal reform is a direct response to the passage of bipartisan legislation in Maine, California, Minnesota, Connecticut, Washington state and elsewhere? Or maybe that U.S. chemical makers sense the demand from their own customers (including commercial and institutional buyers in the electronics, healthcare, construction and defense sectors) for safer products and lower liabilities from toxic surprises?

Many Americans are stunned to learn that most chemicals they are exposed to — on the job, at home and in their communities — have not been tested or assessed for safety. Some of these substances can cause cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities or other dire health problems. We now know many of these chemicals are also found in our bodies, even in newborn babies. So yes, something is seriously wrong with the U.S. approach to regulating toxic chemicals.

Mr. Dooley claims that the chemical industry supports rigorous testing of its products. Yet the industry has fallen far short of its decade-old promise to deliver complete, high-quality data, even for chemicals produced in the largest amounts. And why does ACC, even as it calls for use of the latest science, challenge and seek to exclude the studies that reveal health effects of some chemicals at doses once thought to be safe?

Whatever ACC’s motivation, millions of Americans are calling for a new approach to regulating industrial chemicals. If the U.S. chemical industry is genuinely willing to get on board with meaningful reform, then Congress and the Obama administration will be able to take a big step toward restoring public confidence in government’s ability to protect the health of all Americans.

Washington


Health reform barrier: drug benefit managers

From Bruce T. Roberts, RPh, executive vice president and CEO, National Community Pharmacists Association

(Regarding article, “Dems to show how they will find $1 trillion,” July 6.) One roadblock to real healthcare savings is America’s broken prescription drug payment system. The current lack of transparency and accountability allows pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) — the determiners of which medicines are covered by health plans and how much patients pay for them — to put their profits above everyone else’s interests, including their clients’.

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For example, patients today are often given the incentive to get generic prescriptions filled through a PBM’s mail-order program, even though a community pharmacy can do it less expensively, while also more effectively managing medication therapy. These transactions end up costing patients, employers and other plan sponsors far more in insurance costs due to hidden PBM fees.

The remedy is for Congress to set up a way to regulate PBMs. Such reforms would save patients and the private sector billions and lower the cost of government healthcare plans like Medicare and Medicaid.

Alexandria, Va.

Kansas’s Moran truly represents constituents

From Julie Hinrichsen

(Regarding op-ed, “The heartbeat of rural America,” by Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Economy of Healthcare Special Report, July 8.) I read hundreds of articles on this topic each week, and this is the first one in weeks in which the representative is truly representing the people who voted for him.

Elected officials need to keep this in mind as they make decisions, especially our president. Change just to be able to say we changed can be devastating. I ask all of our elected officials to make good decisions and not be pressured to make a decision just because someone wants it.

I agree we need change in our healthcare system and I know it is a difficult subject to get agreement on, but anything worthwhile is worth fighting for, like our freedom.

Topeka, Kan.