Politico bashes AARP for fighting to keep prescription drug costs low

If you follow political coverage, you’ve no doubt heard about the AARP lobby. The AARP’s opponents like to paint the organization’s lobby as one of the most powerful back-room forces in Washington. While this charge is open to question, it’s a narrative that many reporters have bought into — lock, stock and barrel.

The most recent example of this narrative in action is this story by Politico’s Chris Frates, in which he says the AARP is “threatening” legislators on healthcare reform and quotes a pharmaceutical industry representative trashing the organization and saying its real motives are financial (even though it is a non-profit organization).

What a bunch of nonsense.

Yes, as lobbies of non-profit organizations representing real people go, the AARP is a powerful one. That’s to the organization’s credit, and thank God for it. Because without the AARP as a buffer to Big Pharma, we would be in big trouble.

The AARP draws its strength from its members — tens of millions of seniors who are concerned about issues like Social Security, Medicare and — yes — prescription drug costs. It fights hard on Capitol Hill to make sure the voices of its members are heard.

That’s why the organization expressed concern to Senate officials last week that Congress is considering giving Big Pharma pricing monopolies of 12-14 years on generic biologics. Generic biologics are drugs such as insulin that are made by living organisms. Big Pharma is trying to slip this windfall provision into broader healthcare reform legislation.

The AARP would like a shorter monopoly window — meaning generic competition, and lower prices for consumers, sooner. The organization’s “threat” was simply to tell the Senate that it might not be able to support reform legislation if Big Pharma is allowed to sneak in such a lengthy window of monopoly profit-taking.

Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

And you know what? I’m pretty sure about 90 percent of the American public would agree — if anyone cared for our opinion on the matter.

And yet, Frates presents this as just another example of the AARP, the supposed 800 pound gorilla, throwing its weight around.

So, who’s the real 800 pound gorilla?

According to public data, the AARP has spent a little more than $4 million on lobbying so far in 2009. Big Pharma, by contrast, spent more than $25 million in the first quarter alone.

Frates even allows a pharmaceutical industry representative to charge the AARP, a non-profit, with having a profit motive for its lobbying efforts.

Nowhere is it mentioned in Frates’ story that pharmaceutical industry lobbying is motivated entirely and unashamedly by profits. Or is that just too obvious to mention?

Chris, I’m afraid you’ve gotten too absorbed in the hand-to-hand combat in Washington to see the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. It’s a common malady among the Washington press corps.

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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0 thoughts on “Politico bashes AARP for fighting to keep prescription drug costs low

  • The pharmaceutical companies spend billions developing a new drug as AARP has reported. But AARP does not mention the billions that are also spent on drugs that never reach the market place. Drugs that work require years of scientific data collections, repeated testing first on animals then on humans. I do not fault the big pharmas any profits. I do fear that without big profits the motive to produce new drugs will decline. Our children and grandchildren will surely suffer without innovative new drugs being pumped out of the big pharmas. As far as affordability it is a well known fact that the big pharmas give away millions, maybe billions, to people who cannot afford the drugs.

  • Hi Ann,

    I appreciate your comments. The data shows that Big Pharma spends more than twices as much on advertising and marketing than it does on ALL R&D, including R&D for drugs that don’t pan out. I would agree with you that successful companies should get all the profits they can — as long as this profit-taking is not enabled and subsidized by the federal government. In a free market system where Big Pharma is not protected by the government against competition from generic drugmakers and reimported drugs, prices would quickly become much more reasonable.

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