Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lobbying: Sums Through the Roof as Health Reform Debated

Just in case you thought our economy was still in a recession, you'll be encouraged to know that one area of business is really booming--lobbying Congress as health reform is debated.

According to Alan Fram of the AP (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i8WeRh2k2W2UW9iQ1rgo9ja8ChowD99IJRI82)
the health industry is now the top-spending lobbyist on Capitol Hill. The big spenders in order include PhRMA ($13.1M), Pfizer ($11.7M), AMA ($4M), Eli Lilly ($3.6M), American Hospital Assn. ($3.5M), Blue Cross/Blue Shield ($2.8M), GlaxoSmithKline ($2.3M), CVS Caremark ($2M), Bayer Corp. ($1.9M), America's Health Insurance Plans ($1.9M), Novartis ($1.8M), Biotechnology Industry Organization ($1.8M).

I find it interesting to see that the pharmaceutical industry's main lobbying organization is outspending the health insurance industry's comparable organization (which would seem to be the most at-risk and beleagured group if the government really decided to get serious about health reform) at a ratio of more than 6 to 1.

Just how some of that money is being spent is in turn revealed by Lisa Wangsness of the Boston Globe, in her coverage of the Biotech industry's lobbying (http://www.boston.com/news/health/articles/2009/07/21/biotech_firms_lobby_hard_for_say_on_healthcare/?page=1). One of the reform bills now in the Senate briefly contemplated an amendment that would have reduced the 12 year patent exclusivity that biotech products now enjoy (or are planned to enjoy) before they are open to generic competition. Among those rushing to the defense of biotech was former Democratic Party national chairman Howard Dean, a former physician and Vermont governor. In the haste to turn back this threat to biotech, Dean failed to mention in an op-ed he wrote that he was a paid adviser to a law firm that advises the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

While traditionally Pharma has found many of its friends among the conservatives, biotech has scored major inroads among liberal lawmakers, primarily by stressing the high-quality jobs it brings to their states' economies. I had a chance to see the lobbying style of biotech up close a couple of years ago in Texas. I was asked to testify in favor of a sunshine bill requiring disclosure of payments from commercial firms to physicians. The rep from PhRMA who spoke at the hearing, opposing the bill, made a series of standard points about why the relationship between Pharma and medicine is a social good. The state rep of the biotech industry used a much more gloves-off approach--simply promising that if the bill passed, Texas would lose biotech industry jobs. Biotech's scorched-earth lobbying policy seems to be paying dividends.

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