+1 386-243-9402 MON – FRI : 09:00 AM – 05:00 PM

Healthcare Cost

Congress not only indirectly raised the cost of healthcare by not allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, but also in at least one case, it raised the cost of drugs through a pinpoint piece of legislation. The New York Times reported a provision buried in the “fiscal cliff” bill passed in January 2013 gave Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology firm, a two year pass on Medicare’s plan to regulate the cost of Sensipar, a drug used by kidney dialysis patients. The politicians behind the provision were Senators Max Baucus (D-Montana), and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), both of whom have received contributions from Amgen. The news about the provision’s passing was so positive for Amgen the company communicated the coup to Wall Street analysts. The Times reported the provision is projected to cost Medicare up to $500 million over the two year period.

Last week, it was disclosed CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, had made an investment in tobacco company stocks while she was in office. The CDC she headed reported cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. She was forced to resign, but Congressional members seem to be immune. STAT, a national publication focused on finding and telling compelling stories about health, medicine, and scientific discovery, reported two U.S. senators on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee had made similar investments. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, benefited from a gain on R.J. Reynolds stock bought by her husband. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had purchased Philip Morris International stock worth $15,000-$50,000 in 2012, when he served on the committee.

There is no shame in Congress. STAT research showed about 30 percent of senators and 20 percent of representatives held $68 million in investments in biomedical and health-care companies, or in funds which invested in those industries. STAT reported, “The most common investments in the House were Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Abbott Laboratories. In the Senate, investors favored Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Merck.” The examples STAT described of multi-million dollar conflicts of interest where congresspersons voted in alignment with their investments reads like a script from a Hollywood thriller.

The need to reign in the out-of-control drug pricing is obvious. The resistance the idea will face in Congress is also obvious. A lobbyist for Public Citizen said he wasn’t surprised at the personal investments of our congressional representatives who are elected to look out for us: “They’ve never seen fit to apply the same conflict of interest law to themselves that they apply to everyone else.”

Read the full story on congressional investment holdings from STAT here. Read more about pharmaceutical industry pricing in Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare.