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Many People Cannot Boycott Corporate Tax Dodgers Like Walgreen's

(Photo: Anthony92931 / cc)

We sat in line this morning at the Walgreen's pharmacy drive up window picking up one of the many prescriptions my husband, Larry, must have every month. The news that has been reported about Walgreen's becoming a Swiss company through a tax loophole know as "inversion" is bothersome on many levels as we ponder their $2.5 billion in annual profits bolstered by customers just like my hubby. Seniors on Medicare, all the Medicare supplemental plans, and Medicare Advantage plans make up a huge portion of the pharmacy business upon which the Walgreen's 8,217-store empire thrives.

Some people are calling for boycotts of Walgreen's if the Swiss deal goes through and the drugstore giant moves its headquarters from Deerfield, IL, to Switzerland and thereby avoids a substantial portion of its U.S. corporate tax bill. The U.S. already loves its corporations and treats them with great deference in terms of our tax code and others perks of corporate personhood. But for some companies, that's just not quite enough.

When the pharmacy tech came back to the window, he said only one of my husband's prescriptions was ready as the doctor had not yet authorized the others, and the one we were able to pick up was being charged at a much higher amount out-of-pocket because the doctor's office apparently had not listed Larry's insurance plan as one in which they participate. Mind you, this is the same doctor and the same Walgreen's with which Larry has done business for quite some time. He's made no changes in his Medicare Part D drug coverage which he gets through the insurance giant Humana. His Humana Part D only allows Larry to use Walmart or Walgreen's for his pharmacies if he wishes to have coverage for his medications.

If he opted to pay cash for his meds as a boycott of Walgreen's and/or his Humana coverage limitations, well, then he'd have to go without. Without his meds, he could suffer severe health consequences and potentially die. This seems a heavy price to pay in order to fight an entire tax code and corporate structure that is already stacked heavily against most of us. Larry already pays a large percentage of his Social Security income for his health insurance premiums (Medicare, Medicare Part D and Medicare supplemental) and his out-of-pocket costs on medicine and other health needs.

Walgreen's knows damned well that it has a large number of captive customers whose health plans are tied to one or two pharmacies. As a result of that insulation from any real loss of pharmacy profits, Walgreen's and other similarly situated health system businesses may operate without regard for the overall health of our nation and ultimately the same communities in which its customers live.

Our tax policies for corporations are already among the most lenient in the world, and our health care system is so dysfunctional that patients and their families are stuck in the middle of big business maneuvers with little recourse or even the flexibility to make alternate choices when a business harms them. Corporations may be afforded free speech under U.S. law ala the Citizen's United decision, but people like Larry are largely silenced by corporate greed and hubris.

So, when boycotts are suggested and activists line up to measure one another's commitment to the cause, folks like Larry have no choice -- aside from suffering and death -- but to stand down. And would a boycotting person who did die while standing firm against Walgreen's-like abuses be noticed or provide even a tiny amount of energy for effective protest? Nope. Tens of thousands of dead at the hands of the dysfunctional profit-first U.S. health system have not caused even a dent in the profits of health industry corporations -- bankruptcies and deaths are just a cost of doing business the American way.

This tax situation with regard to Walgreen's is just another of the thousands of economic and ethical reasons why the U.S. needs an improved and expanded Medicare for all for life health care system. Under such a plan and with solid, aggressive negotiations on the bulk purchase prices of drugs covered, patients and their communities would be empowered and protected much more effectively.

In the meantime, our elected officials for whom we have provided and funded health security beyond what most of us could ever dream will continue to protect U.S. corporations. When we finally demand that U.S. tax policy protect the interests of us all and that our health policy view every person's life as equally deserving of the protection currently granted to corporate persons, we'll see the overall economic and societal health of this nation flourish. If we opt for the status quo, we'll lose so much more than tax dollars -- we'll lose the ability to be a society that values every person and every voice. We'll have killed every American dream along with the right to speak up for our individual rights.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith Donna Smith is the national chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign for Progressive Democrats of America.  She was featured in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, SiCKO.

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