Record-Breaking Pharmaceutical Lobbying Stops Important Consumer Measures for Drug Companies
By Gerri Elder
Many people are aware of the controversy in the national political debate over lobbyists, as both presumptive candidates for the two major political parties in the U.S., John McCain and Barack Obama, have spoken out against taking money from "special interests" and yet found out that extricating themselves from the web of money in Washington is no easy task.
But what makes the interests of lobbyists so, well, "special"? And whom are they representing? As most people know, lobbyists exist to represent the positions of groups throughout the United States and the world on every type of political and social issue under the sun. If there's an issue that carries any weight in U.S. politics, you can be sure there are multiple groups who spend money and time getting the ears of Senators and Representatives and others in Washington, D.C. with political power.
But because there are so many lobbyists and political action committees (or PACs, essentially a group organized around a specific issue, such as gay rights or labor rights), it's more revealing to focus on the industries with the most PAC money and lobbyist donors. It's no surprise that on the list of top spenders are major corporations such as telecommunications companies, medical and health care companies, oil companies and military contractors.
Within these broad fields, however, no other major industry pumps in as much money into Capitol Hill than the pharmaceutical industry. According to opensecrets.org, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America group is the 6th highest donor in the years 1998-2006, and many of the other healthcare-related PACs and lobbyists such as AARP are engaged in lobbying for drug-friendly policies. In fact, dividing up lobbying money by industry, opensecrets.org shows that the pharmaceutical industry outpaces every other industry by far.
2007 was no exception, as a new study by the Center of Public Integrity demonstrates to no surprise. In 2007 alone, the pharmaceutical industry spent a total of $168 million. That staggering amount is 32 percent higher than the year before. And just three organizations make up 90 percent of the total pharmaceutical lobbying money: Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America , the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and the Advanced Medical Technology Association.
But just what did these trade groups get for their lobbying time and money? To start with, two controversial laws that favored the industry were extended in 2007, the Prescription Drug User Fee Act and the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act, which were both extended with the Food and Drug Administration Amendment Act that passed in September 2007.
The "user fee" mentioned in the first act allows companies to pay to have additional drug reviewers working to speed up the approval process. In theory, it makes sense for both the drug companies, who want to get their product on the market as fast as possible, and patients, who desire fast testing results for legal decisions or treatment options. However, in practice, while the drug reviewing process has sped up, the safety regulations in place have been watered down to make up for it. Since the act was put into law, more drugs than ever have been pulled from the market as defective drugs.
The second act was designed to encourage the industry to test more drugs on children to expand treatment options and consumer information about interactions and dosage levels for pediatric patients. The act extends the patent on the drug to provide incentive for these measures. Again, however, the industry has found a loophole, applying virtually every drug on the market to this testing, even those not intended for children, such as sleep drugs and anti-cholesterol drugs, just to reap the windfall profits to be gained from extending their patent rights.
Finally, the other major initiative that the pharmaceutical lobby was able to strike down was the Fair Balance Prescription Drug Advertisement Act of 2007, a bill designed to limit advertising of drugs directly to the public. Due to the money and influence used, the bill died in committee and will likely never see a vote.
But despite these very real advantages gained by throwing money into the Washington machine, the intangible effects of so much lobbying are far more devastating, especially to those who have suffered a medical malpractice injury or experienced the loss caused by a defective drug. With the Supreme Court taking up the issue of how drugs are regulated in the fall, the culture of acceptance towards profit-driven drug companies may be permeating through Washington to the extent that any legislation-and yes, even legal decisions rendered by an unbiased court of justices-may heavily favor these big spenders.