Take-No-Prisoners Battle With Big Pharma Brewing

This is the opening paragraph in the Friday edition of the New York Times. And it tells you everything about who benefited from the corrupt Republican/big pharma Medicare D prescription drug benefit, but it also should give you the heebee jeebees about the Medicare D fight ahead.

Big pharma has circled the wagons, hunkered down, and its acolytes are even busy trying to recruit Democrats.

Alarmed at the prospect of Democratic control of Congress, top executives from two dozen drug companies met here last week to assess what appears to them to be a harsh new political climate, and to draft a battle plan.

We'll undoubtedly be treated to a Karl Rove/big pharma alliance, a blood-curdling fear campaign. And ultimately a veto from a president with approval ratings likely hovering in the teens by the time any reform legislation lands with another thump on his desk.

Hoping to prevent Congress from letting the government negotiate lower drug prices for millions of older Americans on Medicare, the pharmaceutical companies have been recruiting Democratic lobbyists, lining up allies in the Bush administration and Congress, and renewing ties with organizations of patients who depend on brand-name drugs. Even though the White House will almost certainly veto any change to Part D, the Wall Street Journal has started beating the drum on behalf of PhRMA.

Having won the election, Democrats may find it difficult to deliver on their campaign promise to save taxpayers' money by giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices for seniors.

Although incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to accomplish this in the first 100 legislative hours next year, House staffers say no firm plan is in place and predict hearings to explore options before action.

You're going to hear lots of lies and fear-mongering. All you need to know is one thing. The pharmauceutical industry is not a humanitarian undertaking--and is certainly not in business to provide affordable drugs to all the American people. Not for a minute.

You'll hear unmitigated crap like if we impose government price controls, it will stifle R&D and no new drugs will ever be developed. Nonsense.

You'll also hear that Medicare D is doing just fine, that senior citizens are happy and thrilled, you won't hear much about the doughnut-hole. You'll see advertisements with happy seniors saying things like "why are the Democrats messing with my Medicare D?"

And of course, you'll be told that the private sector has the ability to lower prices below those that the government can get. Of course we’ve heard all this crap before, and we all know who wrote Part D (Republicans and their big pharma/insurance industry benefactors), and in whose interests it was written.

Remember Billy Tauzin? He's hunting for supporters whereever he can find them. If you chose to believe the New York Times, you can bet lots of $$$$$ is starting to change hands.

Billy Tauzin, president of that group, a lobbying organization for brand-name drug companies, recently urged Representative Edolphus Towns, Democrat of New York, to seek a position as chairman of a powerful House subcommittee, said Karen Johnson, a spokeswoman for Mr. Towns. The subcommittee has authority over Medicare and the Food and Drug Administration.

Democrats have yet to decide who will head the subcommittee.

Mr. Tauzin, a former congressman, also met with Senator Byron L. Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who has been trying for six years to allow drug imports from Canada. The industry vehemently opposes such legislation.

James C. Greenwood, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, another trade group, said, “There is a lot of pent-up animosity among Democrats against the pharmaceutical industry.”

Reading stuff like this is really driving me crazy. I hope this is just more crap from the New York Times. But. . .stay tuned. Stay informed. Stay alert.

Amgen is also seeking strategic advice from the Glover Park Group, a consulting firm whose founders include Joe Lockhart, a former press secretary for President Bill Clinton.

Other major drug companies have been snatching up Democratic former-aides-turned-lobbyists. Merck recently has hired Peter Rubin, a former aide to Representative Jim McDermott of Washington, one of the more liberal House Democrats. Cephalon has hired Kim Zimmerman, a health policy aide to Senator Ben Nelson, a conservative Democrat of Nebraska.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization has retained Paul T. Kim, a former aide to two influential Democrats, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Representative Henry A. Waxman of California.

A Medicare expert who works for House Democrats said he recently received three job offers in one day from the drug industry, by telephone and in person.

You owe it to yourself to read the full article. I have no idea whether or not the Times reporter is carrying water for the Republicans and the pharmaceutical industry. We'd all be living in a dream world if we didn't recognize that the Democrats are going to be both courted and threatened in this take no prisioners show down. But I believe (hope), at the end of the day, most Democrats will remain strong, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the beleaguered American people.

One final point that's worth making. Only two industrialized countries, the United States and New Zealand, allow direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription medicines, although New Zealand is planning a ban.

In the US, reasoned discourse has nearly suffocated in an atmosphere thick with First Amendment objections (the First Amendment protects the right to free speech) served up by apologists like Billy Tauzin for Big Pharma.

In 2000 the drug industry spent almost $2.5 billion on mass media advertising. This was a 35 percent increase over the previous year and more than three times as much as the $791 million it spent in 1996.

Don't be misled by the bogus free-speech argument. Do you think for one minute it's about free-speech? It's about money. This is what healthcare in America is all about--profits for big pharma and the insurance industry.

Drug companies regularly cry “free speech” whenever anyone suggests that their promotional efforts should be curtailed. Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America, went so far as to suggest that such curtailment would be a “human rights abuse” This is nonsense. Drug advertising is often misleading (Ann Intern Med 116: 912–919), and it can potentially distort clinical practice (Circulation 99: 2055–2057). The need to prevent another Vioxx tragedy, in which the “drug marketing got well ahead of the science” (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030145), requires us all to think carefully about the net effect upon society of drug advertising. Public health must always come before industry's unfettered "rights."

We'll have to watch this drama unfold. If Congress simply repeals the ban on price negotiations, without requiring Medicare officials and the HHS secretary to do anything, this would really amount to a pyrrhic victory.

Any reform must have teeth. Senior citizens deserve at least this much, if not more.

NycEve: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 7:36 PM, Dec 03, 2006 in Civil Justice | Health Care | Health Insurance | Insurance Industry
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Great post Eve.
(I think I'm too conjested to say anything too smart right now but I did want you to know that this post rocks)

Posted by: Elana | December 4, 2006 6:36 PM

Thanks Elana, just trying to keep the playing field a little level. nyceve

Posted by: nyceve | December 5, 2006 8:31 AM