Thursday, September 28, 2006

Oh, No, Low Prices

September 28, 2006

Last week's announcement by Wal-Mart that it will offer many generic drugs for $4 is welcome news for American consumers. Strangely, however, this isn't winning Wal-Mart any applause from its left-wing critics.

Take Paul Blank, director of the union-funded Wake Up Wal-Mart, who declared that "Wal-Mart cruelly ignores the fact that it fails to provide company health care to over half of its employees. . . . The Wal-Mart health care crisis grows everyday, and sadly this prescription drug initiative will not insure one additional Wal-Mart employee, one uninsured child, or reduce the billions of cost for taxpayers."

Or consider Ron Pollack, director of the Families USA lobby for government-run health care, who conceded that lower prices are "a limited good thing," but then dismissed the price reduction as being as much "a part of Wal-Mart's public-relations efforts to blunt the deserved criticism of its poor health coverage for its workers as it is a substantive improvement."

These and other Wal-Mart critics are the same folks who've complained for years about high drug prices, using the issue to argue for government price controls, shorter patent lives on new drugs, and reimportation of drugs from Canada and Mexico. The Service Employees International Union held a "Boston Pill Party" in July 2004 declaring that "Americans have an unalienable right to cheap Celebrex and Lipitor."

Wal-Mart isn't a charity, and its $4 decision is designed to lift its own sales by undercutting prices at competing retailers. But that's the way the market works, driving prices lower with competition. It turns out that Wal-Mart's critics really didn't care about prices; what they want is more union clout, and more government control over health care.

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