Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

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July 30, 2003

Pharma's tentacles in your pocketbook

30 July 2003 - The Pharma lobby took a beating last week when the US House of Representatives voted by a clear majority to curtail the price setting powers of the producers of medicines by passing a bill that would allow the importation into US territory of FDA approved drugs from other countries. Canada has lower drug prices than the US by a large margin and trips over the border to the northern neighbour have become a popular way to save on prescription medicine costs, especially for the elderly who have trouble affording drugs at exaggerated US prices.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell had been recruited to support the pharmaceutical resistance to price transparency, but the measure goes now on to the Senate for approval. According to an article published in the New York Times today, pharma lobbyists are fighting tooth and claw. The Pharma trade group's director of federal affairs, Derrick M. White wrote he helped Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, in dealing with the logistics of getting a `Dear Colleague' letter out to as many other Senators as possible in as short a time period, to kill the measure.

Representative Gil Gutknecht, the Minnesota Republican who is the chief sponsor of the measure, comments: "This is a multiarmed octopus we're dealing with." Referring to the trade group, Mr. Gutknecht added, "All roads lead to Pharma."

July 30, 2003

Drug Lobby Pushed Letter by Senators on Medicare

ASHINGTON, July 28 - When the House voted last week to let Americans import less expensive medicines from Canada and Europe, 53 senators signed a letter opposing the legislation, a letter that the industry trade group, which vigorously opposed the measure, hailed as proof of its argument that the bill would jeopardize patient safety.

What the trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, did not say, at the time, was that it helped coordinate the signature campaign.

The Senate "Dear Colleague" letter, timed to coincide with passage of the House bill, will have an important role in whether the import measure survives a conference with the Senate on a larger drug benefits package. Several conferees, including Senators Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Don Nickles of Oklahoma, both Republicans, are among the signers.

The trade group's involvement in gathering signatures, detailed in a document obtained by The Times, is not a surprise. It offers a glimpse into the aggressive efforts by the pharmaceutical manufacturers to defeat the import provision. That section would require the Food and Drug Administration to create a system for consumers, pharmacists and wholesalers to import less expensive drugs from Canada and Europe.

In the letter, apparently intended for Senate Republican aides, Derrick M. White, director of federal affairs for the trade group, wrote that he was helping Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, with "the logistics of getting this `Dear Colleague' out to as many offices as possible in as short a time period."

Mr. White declined to comment. Spokesmen for the trade group, known as Pharma, did not return calls. Mr. Santorum said he had initiated the letter and had asked the trade group to help circulate it.

"I don't have time to run around and get all these people to sign it," the senator said.

The bill, which the House passed early Friday morning, 243 to 186, is one of the most contentious issues of the year. Republican leaders did not back the bill, but were forced to bring it up for consideration when Representative Jo Ann Emerson, Republican of Missouri, insisted on it in exchange for her vote on the larger Medicare drug bill.

A similar measure passed the Senate as part of its Medicare package. But that version requires the secretary of health and human services to certify that the imports "pose no additional risk" to consumers, a condition that effectively prevents the program from taking effect, because the Bush administration says it will not issue the certification. The House bill does not have the certification requirement, which is why the industry is fighting so hard to kill it.

The pharmaceutical manufacturers went to great lengths in their efforts to defeat the House bill. They sent an army of lobbyists to Capitol Hill to try to persuade lawmakers to vote against it, and they joined forces with abortion opponents in a direct-mail campaign focused on conservative House members, warning that the import bill would make the RU-486 abortion pill "as easy to get as aspirin." The mailer was based on a legal memorandum prepared by lawyers for the trade group.

"This is a multiarmed octopus we're dealing with," said Representative Gil Gutknecht, the Minnesota Republican who is the chief sponsor of the measure. Referring to the trade group, Mr. Gutknecht added, "All roads lead to Pharma."

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posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Wednesday July 30 2003
updated on Friday December 10 2010

URL of this article:


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Drug Companies spend $ millions lobbying
An Article by Robert Pear of the New York Times details the awsome lobbying force of the drug companies to fight ... lower prices for medicines. "Lobbyists for the drug industry are stepping up spending to influence Congress, the states and even foreign governments as the debate intensifies over how to provide prescription drug benefits to the elderly, industry executives say. Confidential budget documents from the leading pharmaceutical trade group... [read more]
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Drug companies have been known to spend millions of dollars to influence Congress and government, but recently, a new twist has been added to the story. Public Citizen says that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has quietly given $ 41 million to "stealth PACs" in 2002 and failed to mention most of it to the IRS. The pharma-funded groups, which have innocent sounding names, such as 60... [read more]
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25 October 2004 - In last Sunday's New York Times, editors Donald Barlett and James Steele called for a radical overhaul of the US health system. While the calamitous failure of pharmaceutical suppliers to come up with a sufficient quantity of flu vaccine provides the immediate backdrop for the article, the discussion goes much deeper. It is really about why the US health system has dismally failed to deliver on... [read more]
October 25, 2004 - Sepp Hasslberger




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