Thursday, October 01, 2015

Buying Political Power

Honestly, it is not a fixation of this blog to expose the nefarious doings of the pharmaceutical industry. Many other sectors of business are equally manipulative and Machiavellian but it does seem the evidence of the drug manufacturers’ duplicity is frequently in the media. Pharmaceutical firms exploit suffering patients who are dependent on medication for their survival, and knowingly, condemn to death those who cannot afford them. Psychiatry and psychology can justifiably be accused of being professions of pill pushers. Food companies knowingly poison consumers with harmful and addictive chemicals, tobacco companies make profits knowing full well that they are killing their customers, car companies sell defective automobiles knowing that they will cause fatal accidents but court compensation is less expensive than a recall ... the list goes on. 

Large pharmaceutical firms are some of the most profitable companies in the world, so what do they spend all their money on, besides advertising and hefty salaries for CEOs? Sure, some profits are reinvested to fund research and clinical trials, but hundreds of millions of dollars are also spent on political operations every year, and US federal law requires that drug companies disclose this political spending to the public. Lobbying elsewhere such as in the UK and the EU is less transparent.

Pharmaceutical and health product companies contribute $51 million into the 2012 federal elections and nearly $32 million into the 2014 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). Republicans benefited from 58 percent of the industry's federal contributions in 2012 and 2014 while Democrats received 42 percent. The industry has already spent nearly $10 million on the 2016 elections and is expected to spend more, especially now that Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have made drug prices a campaign issue with separate proposals to rein them in with new regulations.  The proposals floated by Clinton and Sanders would give Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices and increase market competition by allowing US consumers to buy drugs from Canada, and Big Pharma is already going on the offensive. In a recent statement to the press, PhRMA claimed Clinton's plan would "turn back the clock on medical innovation and halt progress against the diseases that patients fear most." The proposal, PhRMA claimed, would result in jobs cuts and fewer new treatments for patients. Despite PhRMA's sensationalist rhetoric, the industry has reportedly shrugged Clinton's plan off as a political long shot that would have little chance of passing Congress even if the Democrat is successful in taking the White House. Experts recently told Associated Press that Congress has repeatedly rejected Clinton's ideas over the past two decades.

Industry giant Pfizer was the top spender among drug companies during the 2014 elections with $1.5 million in federal campaign contributions, followed closely by Amgen with $1.3 million and McKesson Corp with $1.1 million. All three companies spent more on Republicans than Democrats that year. One million dollars plus is a lot of money, but it pales in comparison to the annual salaries of the CEOs at some of these companies. Pfizer CEO Ian Read, for example, raked in more than $23 million in 2014, and Amgen CEO Robert Bradway made $14 million.

The pharmaceutical industry's lobbying expenditures steadily increased from 1998 to 2009, when spending hit a $273 million peak as Congress debated the Affordable Care Act, according to CRP. In 2014, drug companies and their lobbying groups spent $229 million influencing lawmakers, legislation and politicians. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry's lead lobbying group, has spent nearly $150 million on lobbying since 2008, and ranks sixth among the nation's top lobbying spenders, outspending powerful interests like defense contractors and the oil and gas industry. The group has spent more than $10 million on lobbying so far this year. In contrast, PhRMA made $491,000 in political contributions during the 2014 election cycle. Pfizer ranks among the top 25 lobbying spenders in the nation, with $94 million spent since 2008 and $8.5 million spent in 2014 alone.

Another method of corruption/inducement allows Big Pharma to take advantage of Washington's revolving door and directly influence legislation. Influential government officials guaranteed a job/sinecure in the pharmaceutics with generous benefits when they leave their government contract.

What do they get for their money?

Strict patent and trademark laws in the United States allow pharmaceutical companies to maintain monopolies on drugs for up to 20 years before generics can enter the market and drive down prices. Other countries that manufacture drugs, such as India, have looser patent laws and sometimes allow select manufacturers to make generic versions of certain patented drugs in order to keep prices of live-saving treatments from going through the roof. Importation of FDA approved drugs that are monitored for safety by first world agencies comparable to the FDA is illegal. The pharmaceutical lobbies Congress and the Obama administration's trade representatives to put pressure on India to tighten its patent laws, which have allowed the country to produce cheap drugs that developing countries rely on to combat diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. Medicare and Medicaid are legally forbidden to try to negotiate special discount prices (whereas Veteran Affairs has this flexibility.)

Global capitalism has transformed our supposed democracies into corporative governments - a corpocracy

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