More On That White House Drug Deal

| Mon Aug. 10, 2009 9:37 AM EDT

Since I wrote last week about Obama’s capitulation to the drug industry, the White House sought to tamp down protests by Democratic House and Senate leaders by sweeping the whole business under the rug. Instead of openly agreeing to promise no control over pricing—the Obama public line earlier in the week–the White House now says, according to the Times on Saturday morning, that it’s all a big misunderstanding and the pricing question was not discussed.
      Oh, come on. That is a ridiculous line, since pricing of pharmaceutical products is not only a key issue in this year’s health care reform debate, but has been at the heart of the debate over controlling drugs since the Kefauver amendments in the 1950s. Remember, the mechanism that allows Big Pharma to have its way on pricing is patent protection, which has gone virtually unchanged over the years. What the companies are looking for is a way to maintain their monopoly.
 

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Anyhow, for the record, here’s what the Times says happened Friday:

In a telephone interview, Linda Douglass, a White House spokeswoman on health matters, said the question of government drug-price bargaining "was not discussed during the negotiations." Asked if that meant such a provision was excluded, as the top drug lobbyists had previously said, Ms. Douglass declined to comment, repeating, "It was not discussed." …White House officials said Friday that Mr. Messina, the deputy chief of staff who sent the e-mail message, had not intended to confirm that the deal ruled out price negotiations...
The drug industry lobbyists appeared to make peace with the White House over the terms the deal as well. The industry had reached an agreement with the White House in June to contribute $80 billion over 10 years to the cost of the health care overhaul but cap its share of the costs at that level. And since striking the deal, the drug industry lobbyists had become a vital and thus powerful White House ally, even helping to bankroll a million-dollar advertising campaign in support of the health care overhaul.
On Friday night, however, the drug industry lobby appeared to line up once again with the White House, perhaps satisfied that the White House had at least ruled out the price rebates in the House bill….
Asked about the White House statements, Ken Johnson, a senior PhRMA official, said, "All of the questions about what was in the agreement distract from our shared goal of making sure everyone has access to health care coverage."

One clue that the drug industry is still satisfied with its arrangement with the White House is the fact that it has agreed to bankroll the president’s plan with $150 million in advertising.
As the New York Times pointed out Sunday, "By comparison, President Obama’s presidential campaign spent about $236 million on television commercials while the campaign of the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain of Arizona, spent about $126 million. Few expect the opponents of the health care overhaul to muster as much advertising muscle as its backers, including sympathetic business groups, labor unions and ideological allies. The drug makers stand to gain millions of new customers from the expansion of health care coverage."