2 April 2007 at 10:46:52 AM
If you have ever wondered why the cost of prescription drugs in the United States are the highest in the world or why it's illegal to import cheaper drugs from Canada or Mexico, you need look no further than the pharmaceutical lobby and its influence in Washington, D.C.
According to a new report by the Center for Public Integrity, congressmen are outnumbered two to one by lobbyists for an industry that spends roughly a $100 million a year in campaign contributions and lobbying expenses to protect its profits.
I didn't see 60 minutes yesterday but this article about the segment talks about Big Pharm influence in passing legislation that gouged the public.. and passed in the middle of the night.
It prohibited Medicare and the federal government from using its vast purchasing power to negotiate lower prices directly from the drug companies.
"The key goal was to make sure there'd be no interference in the drug companies' abilities to charge high prices and to continue to increase those prices," says Pollack.
Pollack says there's no question that this was prompted by the pharmaceutical lobby.
"They were the ones who wanted to make sure Medicare could charge high prices and to continue to increase those prices," he said.
I remember that whole ugly episode well.
Tom DeLay, who had to step down and is now under indictment for money-laundering, held the vote open past its projected 15 minutes, till 6 o'clock in the morning. No television crews were recording, they did it, like all crooks try to do, under cover of night, when few would see.
Jones says the arm-twisting was horrible.
"We had a good friend from Michigan, Nick Smith, and they threatened to work against his son who wanted to run for his seat when he retired," he recalls. "I saw a woman, a member of the House, a lady, crying when they came around her, trying to get her to change her votes. It was —it was ugly."
It certainly wasn't ugly for the drug lobby which invested more than $10 million in campaign contributions during the last election and has been a source of lucrative employment opportunities for congressmen when they leave office.
Former senators Dennis Deconcini, D-Ariz., and Steve Symms, R-Idaho, and former congressmen like Tom Downey, D-N.Y.; Vic Fazio, D-Calif.; Bill Paxon, R-N.Y., and former House Minority Leader Robert Michel, R-Ill., all registered as lobbyists for the drug industry and worked on the prescription drug bill.
"I can tell you that when the bill passed, there were better than 1,000 pharmaceutical lobbyists working on this," says Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.
The White House and HHS knew it was deliberately lying to Congress about how much it would cost. However, HHS (under Tommy Thompson, who, incidentally, has just put his hat in to run for Prez) wouldn't let Congress see, the White House wouldn't let its advisor testify about the Medicare scam, and the Republicans who were in charge of Congress then, refused to hold a hearing into it. Gee, wonder why?
Medicare Chief Actuary Richard Foster later told Congress that he revised the cost estimate to $534 before the vote, but was told to withhold the new numbers if he wanted to keep his job.
During a Congressional hearing, Foster stated: "It struck me there was a political basis for making that decision. I considered that inappropriate and, in fact, unethical."
Foster said the person who told him to withhold Congress from getting the revised estimates was Medicare boss Tom Scully.
Medicare Boss Tom Scully was negotiating a job for himself at the time with a law firm, as a lobbyist. Within 10 days of the bill being signed, he quit and took the new job.
Congressman Tauzin, who was one of the chief ones to push the bill, took a job as a lobbyist with Big Pharm only a few months after the bill passed.
Jones and Burton agree that the perception of Tauzin's move is not good.
"I mean, when you're pushing so hard for a bill that's controversial and you have to keep the machine open for three hours to get the one vote necessary to pass it, and then, within a matter of months you go to work for the industry that's gonna benefit from it, it does cause you some concern," says Burton.
Drug prices rose sharply after the Medicare law was passed.
OMB said that Medicare drug law would cost taxpayers some 42 billion over the next decade.. MORE
Bush was involved also in arm-twisting those reluctant fiscal conservatives and made personal visits and phone calls to get Congress to pass this.
The GAO said that the White House violated Medicare Law. But nothing happened to those crooks.
The Bush administration used taxpayer dollars to pay for fake news that presented itself as if a television reporter (Karen Ryan) was doing a *news* interview about Medicare. The GAO siad the Bush administration doing that violated the law against using public money for propaganda.
Naturally, the Bush administration was fined and slapped for breaking the law. Oh. Never Mind.
Lester Crawford of the USDA used his attorneys to fight drug-related consumer complaints. (Thankfully, he's gone now. He was also the VETERINARIAN who was put in charge of womens' health, which didn't sit well with women).
Big Pharm paid for commercials for congressmen running in the next election that touted "He voted for Medicare!"
Medicare premiums rose 17 percent in 2005 and was seen as leading to cuts in drug benefits for retirees.
P.S. It strikes me that those on the Republican side who whine about the Democratic *entitlements* need to take a close look at the largest entitlement program passed in the history of our country, who was responsible, why it wasn't investigated afterwards, and what has happened to their party, that has gotten so far away from fiscal conservatism and now seems to channel the John Birch society.
P.P.S. I didn't put some of the references here, but I wrote about them extensively, with newspaper sources, at the time.
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