Saturday, February 23, 2008

Drug Trade Group Spent $22 Million Lobbying

Drug Trade Group Spent $22 Million Lobbying

By Matthew Perrone

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Washington - The pharmaceutical industry's main trade group spent more than $22 million lobbying the federal government in 2007, a 25 percent boost from the year before that paid off on some key issues.

Proposals aimed at lowering drug prices and restricting industry advertising fell by the wayside in Congress. But lobbying experts say the road ahead for the industry looks increasingly bumpy.

"This seems to be a case where the increase in lobbying activity is defensive, not offensive," said Massie Ritsch of the Center for Responsive Politics, a government watchdog.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, whose members include Pfizer, Amgen Inc. and Eli Lill& Co., spent about $12 million in the second half of 2007 to lobby on how prices are set for seniors' medications, rules governing drug imports and other issues, according to lobbying disclosure records filed last week.

Ken Johnson, a senior vice president at the trade group, said that while the industry faced many challenges on Capitol Hill last year, most of the increased spending went toward advertisements urging Congress to reauthorize a program that provides health care to poor children.

Democrats and Republicans agreed early in the year that the program must be reauthorized, though they continue to wrangle over its future size.

"We would like to see every person in America have health insurance," Johnson said. President Bush has twice vetoed efforts to add 6 million to 10 million children to the program over the next five years.

The drug industry, consistently one of the top spenders in Washington, has long faced criticism from some lawmakers over the safety and price of its products. But beginning late in 2006, after the Democrats regained control of Congress, drug makers faced a slew of proposals unfriendly to their interests.

The industry trade group advocated against:

  • a proposal by House Democrats that would have allowed the government - not private health insurers - to negotiate drug prices for seniors in Medicare. The measure, aimed at wringing lower prices from drug makers, stalled in the House after President Bush threatened to veto it.

  • legislation that would allow the U.S. to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and other foreign countries, citing safety concerns. Import proponents said foreign competition would help drive down U.S. drug prices. The issue failed to gain traction in Congress, despite several high-profile hearings.

  • patent-reform legislation that it argued could weaken legal protections on drug patents. High-tech companies supported the bill that passed the House last year aimed at improving the U.S. patent system, but PhRMA argued it could weaken patent protections by reducing infringement penalties. The bill is still pending in the Senate.

  • a bill overhauling the Food and Drug Administration's drug-safety system. The legislation, which became law last September, gave FDA new powers to update drug safety labeling and monitor side effects after drugs are approved.

But the final bill did not include restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising opposed by the drug industry.

Former Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin is the pharmaceutical industry trade group's president and chief executive.

PhRMA's other registered lobbyists include: Mimi Kneuer, who was Tauzin's former chief of staff, Amy Efantis, former legislative director for Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., Valerie Jewett, former legislative director for Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., and Matt Sulkala, who was senior legislative assistant to Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla.

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