Lobbyists play ball, flex muscles on health care reform

The Associated Press reports on lobbying around biotechnology legislation. A letter urging the protection of biotech drug makers from generics from "the private National Health Council, sent to House leaders drafting health overhaul legislation, said the plea was on behalf of 'the more than 133 million Americans living with chronic diseases and disabilities and their family caregivers.'

It urged lawmakers to protect the makers of high-technology biological medicines against early competition from lower-cost generic copycats. The letter did not mention that nearly $1.2 million of the council's $2.3 million budget in 2007 came from the pharmaceutical industry's chief trade group and 16 companies that sell or are developing the brand-name biotech drugs." 

"The July 20 letter is an example of a favored lobbying tactic — special interests quietly financing private groups that may take their side as respected, seemingly independent allies without obvious financial interests in the outcome. It also underscores how both sides are using every weapon at their disposal as they battle over an issue that will affect millions of Americans but has been overshadowed by Congress' larger struggle over reshaping the nation's health care system" (Fram, 8/3).

President Obama has welcomed PhRMA to the table on an agreement to block Medicare price negotiations after campaigning hard against groups PhRMA President Billy Tauzin represents, The Los Angeles Times reports. In return, Obama received promised savings of $80 billion over 10 years.

"Yet everyone agrees that drug companies -- Washington's leading source of lobbyist money -- now have 'a seat at the table' at the White House and on Capitol Hill as healthcare legislation works its way through Congress. If nothing else, a popular president who six months ago criticized drug companies for greed now praises their work on behalf of the public good." It seems Democrats are reaping the benefits of their work as well, The LA Times reports. "This year, for the first time in two decades, Democrats have so far picked up more of the industry's campaign cash -- 54% -- than Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics" (Hamburger, 8/4).

CQ Politics: "During the first half of 2009, health industry groups contributed almost $1.8 million to 18 lawmakers overseeing the House side of the action on an overhaul bill. For 15 of the 18 congressional leaders, health-care-related (political action committees) accounted for the largest or second-largest contributions each lawmaker received from any industry during the first six months of 2009, a CQ MoneyLine analysis of campaign finance reports shows." Leadership in both chambers has taken in hundreds of thousands of dollars from health care PACs, including $224,819 for House Majority Whip James Clyburn of S.C. and $168,250 for Minority Leader John Boehner or Ohio. "Stakes are indeed high for health care interests as Congress considers whether to set up a government-run insurance alternative, whether to require businesses to offer health care coverage, and whether to tax insurance companies or workers’ health care benefits" (Roth and Knott, 8/4).

http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article is republished with kind permission from our friends at The Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery of in-depth coverage of health policy developments, debates and discussions. The Daily Health Policy Report is published for Kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Copyright 2009 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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