“You look at the number of lobbyists — we are up against an army.”

On Sunday, the Center for Public Integrity released a new report finding the pharmaceutical lobby flooded Washington with $155 million from January 2005 to June 2006, employing a stunning 1,100 lobbyists. One public health advocate rightly said, “we are up against an army.”

That’s what they had, not what they have now. Back in January, we noted here that pharmaceuticals were “scrambling to hire lobbyists with Democratic ties”, after the new Congress was sworn in.

On CPI’s heels, CBS’ 60 Minutes aired a comprehensive report Sunday revisiting Big Pharma’s pernicious influence in Congress when the 2003 prescription drug bill was passed:

Why was the drug lobby was so interested in this bill and what did it have to gain?

Ron Pollack the executive director of Families USA, a nonpartisan health care watchdog group, says it all boiled down to a key provision in the legislation.

It prohibited Medicare and the federal government from using its vast purchasing power to negotiate lower prices directly from the drug companies.

“The key goal was to make sure there’d be no interference in the drug companies’ abilities to charge high prices and to continue to increase those prices,” says Pollack.

Pollack says there’s no question that this was prompted by the pharmaceutical lobby.

“They were the ones who wanted to make sure Medicare could charge high prices and to continue to increase those prices,” he said.

Big Pharma’s lobbying has remained fierce as the public still wants to empower Medicare to negotiate. CPI notes that bills following the people’s will never got out of the committee in 2005 and 2006.

But such legislation has cleared the new House this year, and the Senate will be addressing the issue after the current Easter recess.

We’ve been chronicling Big Pharma’s massive efforts to derail the bill, with the help of major newspapers, particularly the Washington Post.

So it was good to see 60 Minutes reject Big Pharma’s White House-aided spin about the effects of empowering Medicare to negotiate:

The drug industry says that competition among private insurance plans that service the Medicare program help keep prices low. But Families USA reported in a January study that Medicare patients are being charged nearly 60 percent more for the top 20 drugs than veterans pay under a program run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The battle will be joined soon. And we’re up against a deep-pocketed lobbyist army. It will take a huge grassroots effort to ensure the facts get heard and the people’s will be respected.


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