On the EDge: Congress and its drug money addiction

OPINION – I had to run some errands the other day, including one to the local pharmacy to pick up some medication for my mother-in-law who is having some pain issues from a neck injury suffered long ago.

She is allergic to traditional pain meds so her doctor gave her a prescription for a new product that would, we all hoped, do some good.

We never got to find out if it works because when the pharmacist rang up the sale, she had this sad look on her face.

The cost for the medicine, she said, was $287 because the prescription was not covered by any of her insurances.

This is a woman on Social Security who also pays a monthly fee for supplemental coverage, yet it would have cost her $287 for a medication that would have, possibly, had an impact on her quality of life.

Spending $287 for one prescription that may, or may not have worked, was out of the question, so she has to tough it out until she has further treatment that will, hopefully, alleviate the pain.

Now, the haters will come out of the woodwork, blaming it all on the Affordable Care Act and the president; but the thing is, this is nothing new because Big Pharma has had Congress in its pocket for a long time now, including the darlings of the conservative movement.

Congress, you see, has a drug problem. It simply cannot live without the money pumped into it by the pharmaceutical companies.

Big Pharma has spent about $70 million on campaign contributions since 2005 and more than $1.2 billion on lobbying efforts that have bought legislation favorable to the pharmaceutical companies, which means unfavorable legislation for the rest of us.

These guys have it going on stronger than the National Rifle Association when it comes to buying influence and favor.

The top political payoffs, according to the OpenSecrets.org website that tracks all political donations, went to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. ($211,550), Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio ($173,800), Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. ($167,466), Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. ($154,150), and Rep Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. ($151,200.) That was just in the last year.

Locally, of course, there is the cozy connection between Sen. Orrin Hatch and Big Pharma. His son Scott is a partner and registered lobbyist at Walker, Martin & Hatch LLC, a Washington lobbying firm that was paid $120,000 by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry’s top trade association, in 2007 to lobby Congress on pending Food and Drug Administration legislation. PhRMA and five pharmaceutical companies also donated $172,500 to the Utah Families Foundation, a charitable organization the senior Hatch helped found.

On the other side of the aisle, outgoing Rep. Jim Matheson, barely a Democrat, received more than $250,000 from health care and pharmaceutical industry donors for his last campaign. Of course, he, too, has close personal ties to the industry. His wife, Amy, is a pediatrician.

What we have in play here is a reprehensible system where Big Pharma goes unchecked with subsidies and benefits on the federal and state levels that make them bulletproof in the marketplace where they can gouge the public.

Because of the payoffs, Big Pharma has outrageous patent benefits that allow companies to hold exclusive rights to medications much longer than necessary to recoup research and testing costs before opening the formulas up for generic development and sales.

As a result, companies hold us hostage, pricing a lot of us out of the market sometimes when it comes to lifesaving or quality-of-life-enhancing meds.

It’s nothing terribly new. I remember a guy I know who would cut his blood pressure meds in half because he couldn’t afford to take them as prescribed. He was bemoaning this fact long before Obama took office, yet he still holds the president liable. Make sense? No, but such is the state of politics and partisanship these days.

There are two major flaws in the system that can fix all of this, but Congress is so deep in the pockets of Big Pharma that it will never take the necessary steps to correct them.

First, if there were stricter campaign finance and donation laws, restricting how much can be palmed off on candidates, that money could go towards lowering prices. Of course, the conservative faction of the Supreme Court recently decided that restricting campaign donations was unconstitutional under the First Amendment, a ridiculous piece of jurisprudence.

The most effective piece of legislation that would help you, me, and the rest of the nation would be to institute ceilings on the cost of medications, like most of the rest of the world does, keeping prices manageable.

A final step would be to prohibit advertising and marketing for all prescription meds.

A Pew Prescription Project report discloses that in 2012, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $27 billion on drug promotion. More than $24 billion went into marketing to physicians with the remainder spent on advertising campaigns to persuade the public that their little pills would cure its ills.

Put that $27 billion back into the industry’s pocket and the cost of your daily maintenance meds will drop significantly.

But, it won’t happen.

Congress, which passes the legislation that gives all the breaks to the pharmaceutical companies, is hooked on the drug money and withdrawal from heavy campaign donations could be hazardous to its collective health.

And none of them are willing or able to, as Nancy Reagan once suggested as a cure for the nation’s drug woes, just say “No.”

No bad days!

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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • Dixielambs May 13, 2014 at 6:49 am

    Ed, many drug companies claim that they will help folks who can’t afford their products. Please tell us how your efforts along those lines have worked out. I assume that, before you would write an article like this one, or allowed your Mother-in-law to suffer pain, you would have explored all possibilities.
    Are their offers just empty PR?
    No bad days…..

  • Kingofutah May 13, 2014 at 7:32 am

    This is why there has been so much opposition to the legalization of Marijuana. It is nearly impossible to regulate, non toxic, and highly medicinal. Big Pharma does not want it legalized. Luckily more people every year are waking up to one of nature’s miracle cures. We should all be pushing our legislators to legalize this herb, and stop the propaganda machine. Give me a break…..oxycontin is legal, but in Utah I am not allowed to puff a little herb to cure my pain. Total B.S. All of these politicians that take political contributions from Big Pharma should be thrown in Jail!

  • Chuck Brown May 13, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Your right, the haters will come out….Why? First of all Healthcare or anything else should not be MANDATED to anyone by our Government …Second if he want’s to give Healtcare to everyone let it be by the persons own choice if they want it or not without getting fined or taxed. I got a great ideal for Obamacare! instead of all the lies about how we can keep or doctor(not true) or our rates will be lowered (not true) why didn’t he put in the Encloypedia Book (2200+ pages that nobody read) of the ACA a plan where Seniors & Vets pay very low prices for prescriptions?? Nobody that is over the age of 63 should be paying no more then $10 per script…now that is a great ideal but then again for our Government that just makes too much sense..Obamacare is so bad for this country even he want’s his name off of it (now ACA). If Obamacare is so great then why all the waivers to 1000’s of companies & groups? can you say loyal campaign donors??…this is already failed in so many ways and will continue to in the next 2-3 yrs, this is just the tip of the iceberg that is going to sink the whole country. Socialism never works in large numbers nor will Socialized medicine/healthcare. I feel bad for your Mother in law for her pain. My MOL just found out that she can’t keep her doctor she had for her major surgery, she had her doctor for over 30 years now he is gone off her new plan…Obama lied to the American people and so did everyone else that favored this train wreck.

  • Ed Kociela May 13, 2014 at 8:25 am

    Great comment. The drug companies do not offer help on all medications. The one I refer is new to the market, just out. There is no program to help make it more affordable at this time.

  • Dixielambs May 13, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Thanx Ed.

  • Jacer May 14, 2014 at 7:53 am

    What I think is funny is that big corporations still don’t get what I call the “Walmart Effect”. The lower the price the more people swarm to buy it. I would buy original over generic RX’s any day, if they were affordable. In fact Pharmaceutical companies would have an amazing increase in their bottom line. Who wouldn’t like the real thing over generic? So it really comes down to pride. If BMW priced their cars near the same that Kia does, they would have record sales! But they don’t want that. They want to be known as high end and only upper-middle and upper class can buy. Generic drugs will always be the drug of choice for the general population. The name brand still make money, but they don’t have to lower their price and put themselves in the same class as generic. Plus, most of them get royalties from the generic anyway. So why change.

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