Democrats Criticize Governor’s PSA on Prescription Drugs

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas is taking to the airwaves in a campaign to help Vermonters spend less on prescription drugs. But Democrats suspect there’s politics at work. They point out that Peter Clavelle, the governor’s Democratic challenger, has made prescription drugs a major issue in his campaign.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Sound from a radio ad) “Hello, this is Governor Jim Douglas. I’m concerned that rising prescription drug prices mean that many Vermonters are having to…”

(Dillon) This week the governor’s office distributed a public service announcement that encourages people to buy less expensive generic drugs.

(Ad, continued) “Whenever my doctor wants to prescribe a medication for me, I ask if a lower cost option, or generic, is available.”

(Dillon) Democrats charge that Douglas is using the free radio spots to enhance his image on the hot issue of the skyrocketing costs of drugs.

(Scudder Parker) “It’s really very political.”

(Dillon) Scudder Parker is chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party.

(Parker) “Jim Douglas is in the middle, whether he admits it or not, of a campaign with Peter Clavelle. Peter Clavelle is regularly taking him to task for his failure to act on re-importation of prescription drugs. And so suddenly Jim is out there doing a PSA about something that’s a good thing for everybody to d. But it definitely puts a fig leaf on his failure to act to help people with prescription drugs.”

(Dillon) Parker says it’s a fine idea to encourage the public to use generic drugs. But he says that while the governor is in a political campaign, the ads should be pulled and some other official should make the public pitch.

The radio ad was originally recorded and released last fall. Jason Gibbs, the governor’s spokesman, defended the decision to re-release it now.

(Gibbs) “Promoting the use of generics is just as important today as it was six months ago. And Vermonters need to be, as the governor has said repeatedly, empowered with the information that they need to make informed health care decisions.”

(Dillon) Gibbs says that the governor will re-evaluate his use of public service announcements, when he becomes an official candidate later this summer.

Middlebury College Politic Science professor Eric Davis says some public service announcements are clearly non-political. For example, he says a politician could use his position to promote a celebration of Vermont history.

(Davis) “But when an officeholder uses the public service announcement to send a message to citizens about an issue that has some controversial policy dimensions to it, then the issue arises of, is the public service ad being used to convey a political position when perhaps a paid political advertisement would be a better way of doing it?”

(Dillon) The generic drug spot was not the only public service announcement that the governor released this week. Douglas also distributed an ad that encourages Vermonters to donate to the Vermont Food Bank.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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