Friday, July 30, 2010

Big Pharma on the Hill: Still Plenty of Clout

A recent Senate committee action gives us a chance to see how Big Pharma is doing these days in terms of political clout:

This ought to be one of those no-brainers--should we continue to allow the brand name drug companies to employ a loophole in the generic drug laws, and pay off generic drug companies not to compete with them by bringing their alternative drugs onto the market as soon as the law allows? It's estimated that the big companies take us for $3.5B/year through this ploy, called "pay-to-delay."

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, co-sponsor of the Sunshine Law to require disclosure of drug industry payments to physicians, authored the measure to close this loophole. It passed the Senate Appropriations Committee.

It's interesting to see how close it came to not passing. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-PA, who until recently was an R instead of a D (and who has lost his primary bid to stand for re-election), started the bidding for Pharma by introducing an amendment to strike this provision from the larger bill of which it is part. The AP reports that the drug lobbyists who filled the audience thought they had it made when they picked up four Democratic votes in Specter's favor, including Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), both representing states with a lot of drug-related jobs. The drug lobby figured it had all the Republican votes on the committee in their back pocket.

They were thwarted, however, by Richard Shelby, R-AL, whose vote on Kohl's side deadlocked the panel at 15-15. As a majority vote was needed to kill the Kohl provision, the industry's move failed.

Bottom line: In the Senate, the drug lobby can commandeer virtually all the Republican votes and usually also enough Democratic votes to get whatever they want.


Chris K. said...

I am happy to hear Big Pharma failed this time around.

stop smoking help said...

As a respiratory therapist, I would love it if my patients could get generic tiotropium (Spiriva) for their COPD or generic Advair. It's a crime there isn't a generic alternative to these drugs yet.

My poor old ex-smoking patients have difficulty paying for their respiratory meds and wind up back in the hospital much sooner than need be - which increases the burden on Medicare.

Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end for the loophole.