Drug Companies Lobbying the Government in the United States

From: http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/indusclient.php?id=H04&year=aIt’s no surprise that American corporations spend billions of dollars each year on lobbying government, trying to gain favorable treatment from legislators. And succeeding wildly. What some may find a bit surprising is which industry spends the most in these efforts.Wendell Potter of the Center for Public Integrity, says that it is the pharmaceutical industry! According to OpenSecrets.org, it spent a total of over $2.6 billion on lobbying activities from 1998 through 2012. In comparison, energy companies spent a mere $1.4 billion.So what are their lobbyists seeking in return? Well, one obvious thing is that pharmaceutical companies engage in outrageous pricing practices, particularly in the United States. Drugs cost far more in the States than they do in most other countries.  The companies also keep exclusive rights to manufacture new drugs for 20 years or more. This despite the fact that drug price inflation is one of the main drivers of health care costs for individuals and families and threatens the fiscal health of our public health care programs.  The industry's policy goals include: resisting government-run health care, ensuring a quicker approval process for drugs and products entering the market, and strengthening intellectual property protections. Top 2008 contributor Pfizer supports efforts to protect pharmaceutical manufacturers by restricting the use of generic copies of their drugs.The gap between what Americans and citizens of other countries pay for drugs is actually increasing. So, in response, many people started to buy their medications from sellers in other countries. Canada was particularly attractive for this purpose. What were the drug companies to do? With a push from their lobbyists, the practice of individuals importing their medications from Canada was made illegal.This is kind of funny, since it is also true that a lot of the drugs available in Canada are manufactured in the United States to begin with, and the exact same drug companies are selling them in both countries!According to a paper published by the National Institute of Health, an amazingly stupid argument that was made to justify this that consisted of scare tactics designed to frighten an ill-informed public. Here it is:Many concerns restrict drug reimportation from being a legal practice in the US. These include safety, efficacy, and therapeutic equivalency of reimported drugs. While these drugs are manufactured in the US, the storage and packaging conditions in countries where drugs were exported cannot be monitored by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In addition, inappropriate storage conditions while reimporting medications back to the US may degrade the quality of drugs. The most important issue is distinguishing between drugs that are manufactured in the US from those which were manufactured elsewhere. Although technically ‘reimportation’ involves importing back drugs manufactured in the US, there are no means to check the originality of drugs. Similarly, it is difficult to determine whether the drugs purchased from other countries have the same dosage form, potency, and amount of active ingredient as the prescribed medication... The pharmaceutical industry criticizes the reimportation practice due to the potential harm to the recovery of the research and development (R&D) costs required for new drugs. While these opponents prevent the legalization of drug reimportation, various consumer advocacy groups support the practice.The bit about dosage form, potency, and the amount of active ingredients is especially insane because pharmaceutical companies in the US import many of their ingredients for their products from countries such as China or India, where safety and quality oversight by the government is considerably worse than it is in Canada.Readers may also be familiar with another law that came courtesy of Pharma lobbying: While private insurers, hospitals and even the US Department of Veterans Affairs can bargain with drug makers to get better deals on prices, the Medicare Part D drug program cannot. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the government could save $112 billion over the coming decade if Congress reconsidered this 2006 gift to drug makers and instead gave Medicare the ability to negotiate prices. Do you really believe that the only way to keep the program from going broke is to cut benefits and raise the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67?Not surprisingly, when the Medicare Part D program was first passed by the US Congress, one of the only major classes of drugs explicitly excluded from all support was benzodiazepines. This restriction was finally eliminated, but only this year.Readers of this blog already know that I think that Big Pharma has purposely demonized this class of drugs by doing such things as grossly exaggerating its dangers of addiction. Benzo’s are just too cheap, safe, and effective for their tastes. They want you to buy their expensive and far more potentially toxic antipsychotics and other classes of medication if you need a sedative. Since the Health Industry practically wrote the Medicare Part D legislation, I think it’s reasonable to assume that this is why benzo’s were excluded, although I can’t prove it.Efforts to restrict the use of benzo’s have also been made at the state level.  Just last year, my state of Tennessee made it illegal for pharmacies to dispense more than 30 days of a benzo at one time. Most insurance plans these days make it cheaper for their customers to get a 90 day supply of meds than three 30 day supplies - not to mention the fact that patients have to make extra trips to the pharmacy. So this new law makes benzo prescriptions a headache for many consumers.The ostensible reason for the law? To prevent deaths by overdose. Now it is true that opiate addicts and those on methadone maintenance programs have combined those drugs with benzodiazepines in fatal overdoses, as the combination can depress breathing. But so can the opiates all by themselves.  That drug combination is actually just about the only way that benzo’s can cause deaths, short of someone falling asleep in the bathtub like Whitney Houston or choking on the actual pills. Not to mention that most of the addicts who overdose get all their pills illegally anyway, so the law accomplishes absolutely nothing other than creating a problem for those who have a legitimate need for the medication, such as patients who have panic disorder.When it comes to the profits of drug companies, however, this concern for drug addicts evaporates. The pharmaceutical industry wants pseudephedrine, its over-the-counter cold and allergy medicine, to remain easily and readily available for consumers who use the product.  Unfortunately, that drug is also used by drug dealers to manufacture methamphetamine, and this has caused legislatures across the country to try to limit the ease by which the average consumer can buy it. (Of course Adderall, a drug which is almost a identical to meth, is not a big legislative concern).In response, the drug companies have suddenly jumped to the defense of the consumer. Not only do the companies lobby governments to reduce these regulations, but they are now appealing directly to the public to lobby their legislatures against them. I actually agree with them on this particular point. There are other better, effective ways to limit the use of pseudephedrine in meth production. But the double standard for pseudephendrine and benzodiazepines is palpable. A drug company trade group deceptively named the Consumer Health Care Product Association has a website designed to motivate consumers to act in their behalf and write their state legislators: http://stopmethnotmeds.com/.  You know how I heard about it? The group has radio ads promoting it across Tennessee, because Tennessee is one state considering further limiting access to pseudephendrine.

 
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