Monday, January 18, 2016
Iowa has opportunity to direct National Attention to Pharma pricing abuse
January 18, 2016--The Iowa Caucus is now two weeks away. While much of the nation’s focus will be upon the outcome among the GOP Candidates and the surging threat by Senator Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and the emerging GOP battles of Trump-Cruz and Bush-Rubio, the final week might better be focused on demanding that the candidates make a record of their stands on healthcare policy to ensure that Americans have access to safe, affordable prescription medicines.
Senator Sanders and Ms. Clinton have taken a stance that would include but not be limited to price negotiation for Medicare as well as other strategies.
This includes the role of patent policy that allows Pharma to benefit so greatly.
The fact is that there is a tremendous public investment of Americans whose taxes help support the Research and Development of medicines.
But patent protection virtually guarantees Pharma a market place in which it can charge what it believes the traffic will bear, even to the allowing of extended patent protection of ‘new’ medicines, such as ‘The Little Blue Pill” which is the result of merely changing the color of the pill and doing nothing that requires any R&D.
Add to this the calls for ending direct-to-consumer advertising, a move supported by the American Medical Association.
Significantly, both Sanders and Clinton support a role for personal importation of safe, affordable medicines from Canada, which almost certainly would lead to Congressional action to expand the concept to brand-name medicines from licensed registered pharmacies in Tier One Countries, whose standards of efficacy and safety meet or exceed those of the U.S.
Or would it?
It is troublesome that Ms. Clinton was the ‘favorite’ of Pharma contributions in the first six months of the 2016 campaign, accepting $164,315 as of October 2015 according to The Hill.
The Republican silence in Iowa is ironic since polls reflect that the public believes the cost of healthcare to be a primary issue.
Add to this, Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley has been a long-time supporter of personal importation of prescription medicine.
As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has joined Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in appealing to Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell requesting waivers to permit personal importation of prescription medicines under the provisions of 21 U.S. Code § 384.
Why then the silence from the GOP? The answer lies in the Pharma donations to and relationships with the candidates of both parties.
We have already mentioned Ms. Clinton's position as the early largest recipient of Pharma donations.
On the Republican side, New Jersey Governor Chis Christie laments that ‘you have to drill a lot of dry holes before you strike oil…’ He even went so far as to ask “Does anybody out there think that giving Washington, D.C., the opportunity to run the pharmaceutical industry is a good idea?”
New Jersey is, of course, home to more pharmaceutical companies than any other state in the US and the Governor or groups he has represented have been the beneficiaries of Pharma’s deep pockets. An example: Reports that “Celgene's current CEO, Robert Hugin, donated $100,000 to a super PAC promoting Christie's presidential bid.”
Donald Trump talks about how his opponents that take money from businesses are indebted to their support, but he has not offered a plan to address the impact of the horrendous pricing abuses by Pharma we witnessed in 2015. For the record, Zack’s reports that he received $50,000 in dividends from Bristol-Myers Squibb Company.
Senator Marco Rubio has expressed concern, as he should since Florida is home to so many elderly who must bear the burden of high prescription medicine costs.
Instead he has opted to make foreign policy and national security the mantra of his campaign and had not offered any in-depth insight into what his policies might be on reducing prescription drug costs. This is troublesome since according to The Hill, he accepted $52,430 in Pharma contributions as of October 2015.
Senator Ted Cruz, a skilled debater, has successfully defended Pharma (Pfizer) before the U.S. Supreme Court against charges of ‘overcharging’ so it would be doubtful that he would support anything that Pharma opposes. Also, according to The Hill, he had accepted $96,045 in Pharma donations as of October 2015.
Much of this is stating the obvious or the already known or suspected. But, Iowa serves as a chance to remind the American public of the impact that Pharma has on elections and politicians, and that it (Pharma) has the deep pockets to protect its goal of making the U.S. into its ‘safe haven’ for the highest drug prices in the world.
Let’s hope that the voters of Iowa use these last weeks before the caucus to call out the candidates and demand answers as to where they stand on prescription drug costs, as well as defining their relationships with Pharma.
And, let’s hope that the rest of the election will demand more of the candidates of both political parties…and the people of Iowa can say that it all started with them.