60 Minutes: Big Pharma wrote the Medicare prescription drug bill

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On April 1, CBS will air a “60 Minutes” expose on the impact of the drug lobby on Congress. CBS spoke with Congressmen Walter Jones, Dan Burton and others about the legislative session that voted the Medicare prescription drug bill into law. An excerpt:

“I’ve been in politics for 22 years and it was the ugliest night I have ever seen in 22 years,” says Jones of efforts by Republican Congressional leaders to persuade defecting Republicans to vote for one of the most expensive bills ever before the House. “The pharmaceutical lobbyists wrote the bill,” says Jones, who, with Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), was among those defectors.

When they tallied votes, there were not enough to pass it, so the vote was kept open for longer than normal. “They’re supposed to have 15 minutes to leave the voting machines open and it was open for almost three hours,” says Burton.

“The votes were there to defeat the bill for two hours and 45 minutes and we had leaders going around … trying to twist [defecting Republicans’] arms to get them to change their votes,” says Burton.

“It was horrible,” Jones tells [Steve] Kroft. “We had a good friend from Michigan, Nick Smith (formerly R-Mich.) and they threatened to work against his son who wanted to run for his seat when he retired,” recalls Jones. “I saw… a member of the House, a lady, crying when they came around her, trying to get her to change her vote.”

The bill passed, extending limited prescription drug coverage under Medicare to 41 million Americans. According to Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a non-partisan healthcare watchdog group, it purposefully allows drug companies to charge more by preventing Medicare from negotiating prices. As a result, one government agency will pay more for drugs than another will. “The [Veterans Administration] does bargain and they do it successfully,” says Pollack. “Medicare could do the same thing, but Medicare is prohibited from doing that as a result of this new Medicare legislation.”

Several lawmakers who worked on the bill have since joined firms that lobby for the drug industry, including the man who steered the legislation through the House, former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who also chaired the House committee that regulated the pharmaceutical industry. Tauzin retired to become the president of Pharma, the drug industry’s top lobbying group — a $2 million-a-year post.

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Says Burton, “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 going to benefit from it, it does cause you some concern.”

Now that’s an understatement.

It is great that “60 Minutes” is exposing Big Pharma’s influence over the laws that are made and enforced. As Jones put it, “the pharmaceutical lobbyists wrote the bill.” It is amazing that an industry can control the rules and regulations made to govern them. How long will the American people put up with this?

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About Cary Byrd

eDrugSearch founder, Cary Byrd, has been called an “e-health innovator” by MarketIntellNow, interviewed by top pharmaceutical industry journalists, invited to Matthew Holt’s Health 2.0 Conference and a Consumer Report's health summit, and highlighted on numerous health blogs.

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