Dear Mr. President, I’d Like to Report a Fishy Drug Deal

Dear Mr. President:

I read a post on the Whitehouse blog called “Facts Are Stubborn Things” that said:

Scary chain emails and videos are starting to percolate on the internet, breathlessly claiming, for example, to “uncover” the truth about the President’s health insurance reform positions.

And that:

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there… These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. 

If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to

I understand your concern about misinformation distorting the healthcare debate. Healthcare is too important to let special interests use fears and smears to sway citizenry. And I agree that only through truth and transparency can we reach decisions that are in the best interest of the American people.

Remember back in June, when you proclaimed a “major step forward” in the comprehensive reform of health care by announcing that the pharmaceutical industry had agreed to cut the cost of prescription drugs for seniors through Medicare?

From CBS News:

In the deal, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has agreed to reduce its draw of revenues by $80 billion over 10 years by discounting the cost of medicines in Medicare’s Part D prescription drug program for some seniors by as much as 50 percent. The discount would go to seniors who fall into the “doughnut hole” — a gap in Medicare Part D coverage. Currently, once seniors have received $2,700 worth of drugs, they are left to pay the full cost of their medication until that cost reaches $6,100.

“This gap in coverage has been placing a crushing burden on many older Americans,” Mr. Obama said. The agreement, he said, will make health care “more affordable for millions of seniors and restore a measure of fairness to Medicare Part D.”

The agreement with PhRMA was negotiated with the White House and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is leading health care reform as chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Baucus stood by the president on Monday as he praised the agreement, as did Sen. Chris Dodd, who is leading health care deliberations in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Barry Rand, head of the senior citizens’ advocacy group, AARP.

The president pointed out that the pharmaceutical industry stands to benefit from the millions of more customers it could receive as a result of reform. Therefore, he said, “it’s only fair” that pharmaceutical companies do their part to reduce costs.

Since drugs represent about 10 percent of the U.S. healthcare budget and you yourself have warned many times that the U.S. health care system was a huge drain on the Treasury and threatens economic growth, I was a bit disappointed to learn that this PhRMA deal did not provide for the federal government to use its weight to negotiate down drug prices or facilitate the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada.

Don’t get me wrong, it gladdened my heart to learn Medicare “doughnut hole” seniors would be helped by your efforts. But I, and many other Americans, had really hoped to hear you come out with a deal that would help all Americans. After all, it is not just the seniors being hurt by the extraordinarily high drug prices in the U.S. And both importation and negotiation were a part of your healthcare campaign promise(h/t janicen):

Obama will allow Americans to buy their medicines from other developed countries if the drugs are safe and prices are lower outside the U.S.

Obama will repeal the ban on direct negotiation with drug companies and use the resulting savings, which could be as high as $30 billion [a year], to further invest in improving health care coverage and quality.

Which made it even more disappointing to learn that:

Analysts said while the deal would crimp profits for the companies, the $80 billion in discounts they were offering was less than initially feared. The government had opened negotiations asking for $130 billion.

So okay, as a first step in the overall march to healthcare reform in general and on prescription drugs in particular this big PhRMA deal included a few too many stubbed toes and skinned knees to be a boot-stomping, butt-kicking success. But since the real process of overhauling and reforming healthcare was yet to come, I still had hope. Then, just the other day, I read in the New York Times that White House Affirms Deal on Drug Cost

Pressed by industry lobbyists, White House officials on Wednesday assured drug makers that the administration stood by a behind-the-scenes deal to block any Congressional effort to extract cost savings from them beyond an agreed-upon $80 billion.

…the White House explicitly acknowledge for the first time that it had committed to protect drug makers from bearing further costs in the overhaul. The Obama administration had never spelled out the details of the agreement.A deputy White House chief of staff, Jim Messina, confirmed Mr. Tauzin’s account of the deal in an e-mail message on Wednesday night.Mr. Tauzin said the White House had tracked the negotiations throughout, assenting to decisions to move away from ideas like the government negotiation of prices or the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. The $80 billion in savings would be over a 10-year period. “80 billion is the max, no more or less,” he said. “Adding other stuff changes the deal.”

After reaching an agreement with Mr. Baucus, Mr. Tauzin said, he met twice at the White House with Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff; Mr. Messina, his deputy; and Nancy-Ann DeParle, the aide overseeing the health care overhaul, to confirm the administration’s support for the terms.

“They blessed the deal,” Mr. Tauzin said.

Immediately upon reading this, I thought, it can’t be true. The President wouldn’t make a deal for just the seniors and only for a miserly $80 billion over 10 years, and leave the rest of us Americans to pick up the bill of wildly escalating drug costs. So I madly searched the Internet to prove this was false, but every source was saying the same thing. You approved the deal.

Then it dawned on me. This big PhRMA drug deal is fishy. Really fishy. The fishy confirmation email from deputy White House chief of staff, Jim Messina. That fishy PhRMA guy, Mr. Tauzin switches sides from drug industry overseer to lobbyist (h/t bayareavoter). The fishy contributions of nearly $1 million from healthcare and PhRMA (h/t elise) to Senator Baucus’ campaign committee. And fishy is exactly what the Whitehouse blog warned about.

So I’m following your instructions Mr. President. I’m reporting this fishy drug deal to I know you’ll get to the bottom of this and clear up all the rumors and misinformation so the American people can understand simply and clearly what truly is in (and not in) your drug deal with PhRMA.

Thank you Mr. President.


A Fellow Concerned Citizen for Truth and Transparency

[Crossposted at No Quarter]


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