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article imageOp-Ed: $500M Health rort — Amgen Medicare story stinks up a storm

By Paul Wallis     Jan 26, 2013 in Health
Sydney - Call it creative representation. Call it a rort. Call it the way things happen in Washington. Amgen has used Congressional dynamics to shore up $500 million in savings from Medicare.
By postponing price restraints, it has almost recouped the value of its recent $762 million fraud penalty.
The story came out in The New York Times and has been spreading like a bad smell across American political commentary sites since.
The New York Times published the details of the early Christmas present for Amgen in its 22 January edition. Other commentators have since weighed in, notably’s highly unimpressed Bill Moyers and Michael Winslop.
The reason for this infuriated commentary isn’t hard to find.
The New York Times:
Senators who play a major role in federal health care financing were happy to help Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology company, evade Medicare cost-cutting controls by delaying price restraints on a class of drugs used by kidney dialysis patients, including Sensipar, a drug made by Amgen. That provision was inserted into the final fiscal bill by Senate aides. Many members of Congress did not know it was in the bill until just hours before it was approved.
As though dialysis wasn’t already enough fun. Patients now have another two years of unrestricted greed to deal with. This was part of the horse dealing involved in avoiding the fiscal cliff for a few more months.
Nor was this done out of pure love of country in other directions: Moyers and Winslop cite a few figures and associations:
Since 2007, Amgen employees and its political action committee have contributed nearly $68,000 to Senator Baucus, $73,000 to Senator McConnell’s campaigns, and $59,000 to Senator Hatch.
And lo and behold, among those 74 Amgen lobbyists are the former chief of staff to Senator Baucus and the former chief of staff to Senator McConnell. You get the picture: Two guys nurtured at public expense, paid as public servants, disappear through the gold-plated revolving door of Congress and presto, return as money changers in the temple of crony capitalism.
Inside to welcome them is a current top aide to Senator Hatch, one who helped weave this lucrative loophole. He used to work as a health policy analyst for — you guessed it — Amgen.
These guys may not have been the best at hide and seek when they were kids, judging from the obvious associations and conflicts of interest in this tale. They’ve apparently overcome their handicaps with some applied cash.
The net equation is that $204,000 in donations equals $500 million in non-payment of Medicare. Great work if you can get it, obviously.
Note the following matters:
(a) The interests of patients were clearly not relevant to the bill. The cost to patients will equal that $500 million or so, less any cover, divided by the number of patients.
(b)The lack of subsequent rationales and apologia on this subject indicate that the Washington time-servers are as usual hell bent on any and every form of damage to public health at all possible opportunities.
(c) It is abundantly obvious that nobody in Washington either exercises or has attempted to exercise any control over the use of public office to promote corporate interests, particularly in biotechnology, where companies routinely interfere in legislative processes, and in effect write the legislation.
How long will this be tolerated?
Big Pharma, like the rest of the health sector, has long been associated with pure avarice and total disregard of any form of regulation or even basic ethical conduct. The raising of the price of medications a few years ago was a shameless act of grovelling to corporate interests on the part of the Congress of the time. A price structure which was working quite well was completely dismantled to up the numbers for pharmaceutical companies, very much to the foreseeable detriment of patients.
The question why America tolerates this behaviour is hard to answer. It’s well known, it’s predictable, and nothing at all ever gets done about it.
The American public continue to be treated like toilet paper by any corporate lobby.
The actual value of a legislative body which merely legislates in favour of its associates and blocks every bill in the public interest doesn’t require explanation. What requires explanation is why this behaviour is tolerated at all. In less sedentary countries, lawmakers would be dodging bullets. In others, they’d be dodging impeachment.
Define a corrupt practice- Does it or does it not include use of public office for improper benefits? If it doesn't, how do you define corruption?
Nobody expects rational behaviour from American pharmaceutical companies. In Australia, they actively object to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which allows Australians to buy their products. Patients pay a minimal amount, and the government pays the rest. The pharmaceutical companies get their money, but they don’t like how they get it. In America, they simply object to patients being able to afford their products and do everything possible to make sure they can’t. It’s a litany of irrational acts with no letup.
The bottom line is this- How long does this racket go on?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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