Prescription for disaster

Prescription for disaster

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"Who owns the FDA? The drug industry or the people?" --BMJ (British Medical Journal)

"I believe that the FDA is unduly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry and that the undue influence is in part the result of industry money funding FDA operations." --Dr. David J. Graham, MD, MPH.

"The FDA acts to protect the financial interests of the pharmaceutical industry as opposed to the health of the American public." --William Faloon, Life Extension Foundation.

For those of you who can’t read the first paragraph on this picture, here it is:

“It probably won’t shock you to learn that Americans pay some of the highest drug and health care costs in the world. This steep prescription price tag does not always buy better or higher quality drugs. Why is this? Well, Big Pharma, as large pharmaceutical companies are called, have run amok in America.”

If you’re plagued by an illness or illnesses, and the motivation just isn’t there to treat your body right by changing your lifestyle with proper nutrition, exercise and the right thought patterns, then perhaps this might move you to action: as long as you keep living the way you’re living, and getting your pocketbook depleted (perhaps even becoming bankrupt)… as long as you keep following traditional medicine’s advice (with absolutely no positive results), you will continue to feed the beast, and that beast is Big Pharma.

Look at the markup of the drugs they supply. They’re making a KILLING. They’re sucking the blood out of this country, and most shamefully, out of our Senior Citizens. They are a disgrace. The cost of the TV ads they pay for, that most American TV viewers are subjected to every day, are peanuts compared to the dough they’re raking in. Check out what they spend on lobbyists, whose jobs are to influence law makers so that their interests are protected.

The return on investment (the ROI) of a healthy lifestyle is something that is priceless…it can’t be measured. It’s my hope that more citizens wake up to this insidious sham that’s been going on for far too long.

Letterman refused to pay his alleged blackmailer. Obama should say no to Big Pharma, the insurers and the AMA

Robert Reich
October 19, 2009

Last January, as I understand it, the White House promised Big Pharma, big insurance, and the American Medical Association the moral equivalent of what Joel Halderman allegedly demanded of David Letterman: hush money. The groups agreed to stay silent or even be supportive of healthcare reform, as long as they were paid off.

But now that it’s time to collect, the bill is larger than the White House expected, and it’s going to fall like an avalanche on middle class Americans in coming years. That could mean an ugly 2012 election (read Sarah Palin).

So the President has to do what Letterman did: Refuse to pay.

Big Pharma is on the road to getting its deal: not only 25 to 30 million more paying customers, but also a continued ban on Medicare using its bargaining clout to reduce drug prices, a bar on genetic drug manufacturers introducing similar biologic drugs until the originals have been on the market at least twelve years, and no public insurance option to negotiate low drug prices. (Big Pharma did agree to $80 billion of cost cuts over the next ten years, to be sure, but its hush money payoffs far exceeded that sum.)

Big insurance is well on the way to getting what it wants: 25 to 30 million more paying customers (many of them young and healthy), a requirement that almost all businesses “pay or play,” and no competition from a public option.

Doctors (that is, the American Medical Association) are on the way to getting what they want: Instead of a temporary patch on scheduled decreases in Medicare reimbursements to them, a permanent fix that would change the reimbursement formula altogether and reward them $240 billion over the next ten years.

But when they all get paid off, who will do the paying? Middle-class Americans who are already in a financial squeeze — whose wages are lower, adjusted for inflation, than they were thirty years ago, and whose jobs are disappearing. They’ll face still higher premiums, co-payments, and deductibles; and they’ll pay higher drug prices, Medicare premiums, and taxes to cover the rest.

That’s because these payoffs make it next to impossible to contain the wildly escalating costs of healthcare. And 25 to 30 million additional Americans will be covered.

The only thing in the emerging bills that’s related to cost containment is a proposed excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans, priced over a certain threshold amount (the threshold is now up for grabs). But because the costs of healthcare are likely to rise faster than inflation, whatever the threshold, the middle class will get socked again.

So Obama has to forcefully weigh in with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid as the two try to cobble together passable bills for each chamber — demanding real cost containment.

The three big means of containing costs: (1) A true public option (better yet, one that allows anyone now holding private insurance to opt into; (2) authority for Medicare to negotiate low drug prices; and (3) lower Medicare reimbursement rates to doctors (in other words, no “doctor fix”).

In addition, the so-called “medical exchanges” in the emerging bills (as well as the public option, which hopefully will be included) should give preference to pre-paid heathcare plans, like Kaiser Permanente, whose doctors are on salary and have every incentive to keep people healthy rather than charge for more services and tests.

But if Obama doesn’t weigh in forcefully and say “no” to the hush money for Big Pharma, big insurance, and the AMA, America’s middle class will get walloped. And if the walloping starts before 2012, Sarah Palin or some other right wing-nut populist will wallop Obama. And after she or he wallops Obama, America will get walloped even worse.

Spending on Lobbying Thrives
Drug and health products industries invest $182 million to influence legislation

By M. Asif Ismail
Data analysis by Helena Bengtsson

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2007 — Manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and other health products spent nearly $182 million on federal lobbying from January 2005 through June 2006, a Center for Public Integrity study of disclosure records shows.

Of that total, drug companies and their trade groups spent most of it, or $155 million, lobbying on a variety of issues ranging from protecting lucrative drug patents to keeping lower-priced Canadian drugs from being imported to the United States Drug interests employed about 1,100 lobbyists to do their bidding in each of the past two years.

Many of the bills targeted by lobbyists for drug interests last year were largely the result of public concerns over high drug prices and safety issues. Drug companies "have been facing an increasingly furious Congress and an increasingly disgruntled public," said Amy Allina, program director at the National Women's Health Network, a women's health advocacy group.

The drug industry trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) spent more than $18 million on lobbying last year, more than any single drug company and the most the group spent in one year since 1998, the earliest year of this analysis. In all, PhRMA has spent $104 million since 1998.

Among drug manufacturers, Pfizer, the world's largest drug firm, spent the most on lobbying last year — $12 million — bringing its total to more than $62 million since 1998. Merck spent about $48 million and Eli Lilly, Bristol-Myers and GlaxoSmithKline each spent around $40 million in the same period.

One effort by lawmakers that drew heavy drug industry lobbying was to undo a provision of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003. The legislation, which was passed after a huge lobbying blitz, guarantees that the nation's seniors and the disabled who receive Medicare are eligible for some form of prescription drug benefit starting in January 2006.

The law, often cited as a poster child for the industry's influence in Washington, bars the federal government from negotiating on prices of drugs supplied through Medicare. Many other bulk purchasers, including private insurers and federal departments such as the Veterans Health Administration, negotiate with companies for discounts.

A House bill sponsored in 2005 by Oregon Democrat David Wu would have allowed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate for lower prices for Medicare prescription drugs. A spokeswoman for Wu said the bill never made it out of committee. All similar bills met the same fate.

This session, the new Democratic House passed the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act, which requires price negotiation, and the Senate is considering a companion bill. But the White House has issued a statement that President Bush would veto any push to require drug price negotiations in the Medicare program.

Nearly all major drug companies lobbied heavily to influence how the Medicare prescription drug program would be set up and administered.

The drug industry also lobbied aggressively to stall legislation that would have allowed drugs to be imported from other countries and sold in the United States. For years seniors, health activists and even state government officials have been demanding laws that make it easier to import drugs from Canada and other countries, where prices are significantly lower.

At least half a dozen measures supporting such a move were introduced in the House and the Senate during the last Congress, but none prevailed. According to a bill introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in January 2005, allowing "open pharmaceutical markets" could save American consumers at least $38 billion each year.

Other issues the industry lobbied heavily, among others, include:

* FDA reform: Drug safety has been a big issue on Capitol Hill, especially since two popular painkillers were recalled in 2004 and 2005 due to safety concerns. Several bills that would strengthen the Food and Drug Administration's ability to monitor safety of marketed products were unveiled in the last Congress. The industry is opposed to any legislation that would give the FDA more oversight.

* Trade and patent: The industry lobbied the United States government to press other countries to guarantee drug companies strong patent protection through trade deals. It also campaigned against "foreign price control," saying that foreign governments sometimes keep their drug prices artificially low.

* Project Bioshield: In 2004, Congress passed a landmark law to counter bioterrorism that would invest $5.6 billion to stockpile vaccines and other medications against bioterror. After the bill was passed, drug firms lobbied for what the Wall Street Journal called "more goodies" attached to the program, including the chance to extend patent rights on medications "that have nothing to do with homeland security."

Lobbying on these and other issues was led by PhRMA, headed by former Congressman Billy Tauzin. The group has an annual budget of more than $200 million.

Tauzin, who joined PhRMA as its president and CEO in January 2005, registered to lobby for the first time last year. The former chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which regulates the pharmaceutical industry, was not allowed under the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 to lobby his former congressional colleagues for one year.

Mimi Kneuer, Tauzin's former chief of staff, is also a PhRMA lobbyist.

The Center's latest study showed that the manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and other health products have spent at least $855 million on lobbying from 1998, through June last year. Most of it, or $733 million, was spent by the drug manufacturers and their trade groups.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the pharmaceutical/health products sector gave nearly $107 million in federal campaign contributions. More than 70 percent of the contributions were made by individuals and Political Action Committees from the pharmaceutical industry.

Twenty top drug companies (including their subsidiaries) and two industry trade groups spent a total of $605 million on lobbying during the study period. These groups spent at least another $50 million in the second half of 2006. (According to IMS Health, which compiles drug industry data, these 20 firms had nearly 77 percent share of the $253 billion United States prescription drug market in 2005.)

National Women's Health Network's Allina said her organization and other groups that lobby against the industry are at huge disadvantage against such money and muscle power. "We are certainly dramatically outspent by them," she said. "You look at the number of lobbyists — we are up against an army."

Funding for this report was provided by the Nathan Cummings Foundation.