A Look at Pharmaceutical Industry Lobbying

from interfaith center on corporate responsiability

Whose Interests are PhRMA Protecting? A Look at Pharmaceutical Industry Lobbying

Special Web-only Feature

The pharmaceutical industry, often considered an untouchable ally of Republican leadership, has suffered from a recent bout of backlash. Republicans have partnered with Democrats to examine the lobbying and advertising activities of U.S. drug companies; this appraisal followed a heavy-handed industry campaign against Congress’ Emerson-Gutknecht bill (a bill requiring that the FDA implement a system of prescription drug reimportation). The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) lined up with a far-right Christian advocacy group to fight the legislation as an abortion-rights issue. This move angered traditional pro-life allies, and now shareholders are asking: whose interests are PhRMA protecting?

The pharmaceutical industry has long been a first-rate interest group. PhRMA employs one of the largest lobbying staffs on K Street, makes hefty political contributions, and funds extensive issue advertising campaigns; and the trend has been increasingly partisan. In 1990, for example, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company donated $150, 260 to political candidates, with 31% reaching Democrats and 69% reaching Republicans. By 2002, Bristol-Myers Squibb was donating $1,590,813 to politicians, and only 16% went to Democrats (opensecrets.org).

PhRMA’s political power has set the stage for industry-wide business strategies. Political connections have helped drug companies to battle price restraints, stretch patent guidelines, and avoid litigation. PhRMA’s actions have not been without consequence. A 2003 poll conducted by Advanstar Communications found that only “13% of people regularly believe a pharmaceutical company statement,” and 57% feel that pharmaceutical companies should be subject to more government regulation.

PhRMA’s tactics have alienated consumers and regulators. Negative press and uncompromising policies are threatening to marginalize drug companies in the public sphere. Corporate resources have gone towards lobbying, aggressive marketing and legal fees; these same resources, poured into socially responsible actions, could help stop the reputational hemorrhaging and protect shareholder value.

The industry has tried to rebound and appear in touch with consumer needs. PhRMA publicly supports the expansion of health care, especially Medicare coverage for the elderly. President Alan F. Holmer called on Congress to pass “meaningful prescription drug coverage.” The group’s understanding of “meaningful” coverage, however, is limited. According to PhRMA, prescription drug coverage should be provided by the private sector, with no room for the large purchasing blocks that the government uses to negotiate better consumer deals.

When a new Medicare drug benefit emerged under Bush, PhRMA spokeswoman Jackie Cottrell admitted that PhRMA provided an “unrestricted educational grant” to the United Seniors Association. The USA is a strong partisan organization of retired GOP staffers and corporate executives, including Craig Shirley, whose P.R. firm represents the Republican National Committee. The PhRMA money financed USA’s $16 million issue ad campaign. While House and Senate versions of the bill differ, both include the private sector partnerships essential to PhRMA’s strategy.

This heavy-handedness has upset more than just the usual opponents. Despite the industry’s opposition, the new reimportation bill passed in the House, 243-186.

The bill would allow U.S.-exported drugs to reenter the country at foreign, government-controlled prices. American drug companies, resistant to a national drug -pricing program, would be faced with imported price controls. To avoid this embarrassing loss, the industry turned to the Traditional Values Coaliton (TVC), a Christian advocacy group, to fight the legislation.

TVC is known in Washington as “Rent-A-God.” PhRMA used the group as a front for its own operation, not wanting to attach its name to an unpopular pro-life position. As Alan Murray of the Wall Street Journal stated, “(PhRMA) has euphemistically named organizations like ‘Citizens for Better Medicare’ and ‘United Seniors’ to launder its message. Little wonder people ask: What are these guys trying to hide?”

PhRMA did not publicly lend support to the TVC campaign; it did, however, privately lend cash and lobbying staff. Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, TVC’s executive director, distributed a letter to lawmakers stating that the bill would provide greater access to mifepristone, an abortion-inducing drug, and would “effectively repeal” a law that prohibits the postal sale of abortion products (kaisernetwork.org). Computer records revealed that Tony Rudy, a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry, wrote the letter’s initial draft.

According to the Washington Post, Sheldon Lafferty also distributed a memo linking reimportation to mifepristone availability. The memo was first drafted by PhRMA’s senior vice president, Bruce Kuhlik.

Lawmakers believe that the pharmaceutical industry managed TVC’s direct-mail campaign as well. The mailings contained abortion drug warnings and pictured newborns with captions reading, “do not miss an opportunity to protect the sanctity of life.” Rudy has been linked to the mailing’s funds, and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) commented, “I am confident, in fact I am dead sure, that the Traditional Values Coalition did not have the money to mail this kind of trash out to congressional districts all across the country.”

Pro-life Republicans were infuriated at the industry’s link between drug access and abortion. Principled religious advocacy groups, including Catholic organizations like the National Catholic Social Justice Lobby (NETWORK), supported reimportation regardless of TVC’s clumsy campaign. House Republicans circulated a paper that challenged TVC’s claim, explaining that reimported drugs would have to adhere to FDA guidelines (mifepristone is only available with a doctor’s prescription). Enraged by the sham campaign, the Values Action Team, a coalition of conservative lawmakers and outside groups, expelled TVC from its organization.

In the end, money, and not abortion, was the deciding factor in the reimportation vote. According to Capital Eye, lawmakers who voted against the bill (in the industry’s favor) raised an average of $39, 813 in individual and PAC contributions from pharmaceutical companies between 1989 and 2002. Members who voted for the bill raised an average of $13, 917. In the 2002 election cycle alone, members against the bill averaged $14, 958 in pharmaceutical contributions, and those for averaged $4, 058.

PhRMA’s reimportation campaign demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding in how political capital should be raised and spent. The industry targeted its own allies, and again tinged its reputation. It is time for shareholders to reign in PhRMA, refocus corporate resources, and craft solutions that both corporate management and consumers can live with.

Article written by Ilana Zimmerman, ICCR intern


Mental Health in the U.S.

Maybe some one can explain to me how that in the supposed greatest country in human written history, can be such a failure when it comes to mental health care? We supposedly have the best health care in the world, but that has not been proven to me sufficiently, yet. However, in New York we have aparently a woman dying on the floor of the ER in front of everyone with no one paying even the least bit that she was there. When will we wake up to the real need of decent care for the mentally ill in America? Do not even get me started on what is happening to the rest of us.

Election 2008

This election is probably one of the most criticle in the last hundred years. To turn this over to Obama would be inviting the end of America as we now know it. He lacks the courage to stand up to our enemies and say go no further. He believes in always trying to work out a fight by negotitian, doing this with the Iranians is one of the sure fired ways of going to war. These people believe only weak people negotiate. The only way to make them sit up and take notice is to threaten them in such a fashion that they know you mean it. Only McCain or Clinton are prepared to do this. Personally I prefer Clinton, but only because she will do something about medical coverage. I am a Republican by heritage and conviction, but this year is different, I want some one who will do something about health care, but will also be able to make the hard decisions. That leaves for me Obama out of the equation, he is very dangerous, because he has no idea of what he is talking about. His lack of taking a stand beside his pastor, makes me think he is just another politician from Chicago. He is not who he says he is. So then who is he? Only time will tell if he is president he will become all of a sudden a Moslem just like magic. If this is not so then how come does he believe in negotiating with terrorists? Terrorists need to be dead (I am only saying that terrorists are impossible to deal with, short of going to war). We will see what happens.

Medical Care for The Disabled and Elderly

I have just created a page that is filled with a paper I did a few years ago on prescription medication and health care for our population that is least prepared for it. If you either look at pages to the right or click here you will be sent to it.

Hearing the same thing over and over

This is going to be a short and to the point comment. I keep hearing the same tired old advertisements urging us to use the latest and best medications or drugs. How is it that hearing the same old line over and over will convince me to purchase their product? Today it was Boniva, now I do not know it could be a very good product, but what is said in these convince me it is not worth the chance. Now its Plavix its supposed to reduce cholesterol plates building up, but the ad tells me not to try it because it could be dangerous. The straw that makes me made is that I am supposed to tell my doctor about this product, but be sure to tell her what she already knows. I prefer to let my doctor tell me what is best for given my health needs. Forget trying to sell their products for me to my doctor.

Take my pole

 I am sure that every one that probably has read the postings in this blog will agree that something needs to be done. I am convinced that a change at the top of this countries leadership will go along way towards change in health care. Just out of curiousity and for no other reason I have set up a pole on this post. If you think of any additional questions to ask, please post a response?

Take my poll!

An Addicted Society

We are addicted to a multitude of drugs and medications. Just look at the ads on your television as I did to day. I counted no fewer then 13 separate advertisement segments. Some of them granted were for the same drug. My concern is that these are all paid advertisements, that means that the networks are dependent on the drug manufactures. It would be good if we could outlaw television and radio advertisements for the pharmaceutical companies. I would like it if we could add that same ban to magazines. The only truthful place for these advertisements should be in professional journals. It is my doctors right to choose the right medication for me and I will not be a party to short circuiting that relationship. Only it is my responsibility to be truthful with her about my medical problems.