The Obama Administration has been widely criticized for being captured by the pharmaceutical industry, which has gotten the White House to block efforts to guarantee lower cost drugs and increase profits for these companies. Pharmaceutical lobbyists have in turn given huge amounts of campaign money to President Obama and Democratic members as well as jobs to former members. Even with this record, however, many are shocked by the White House pushing of a trade agreement that would undermine international efforts to reduce the cost of drugs and extend the patents for these companies to further increase their profits. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) allows for techniques like “evergreening” to extend patents for the industry, which in turn has continued its own evergreen record of high-paying jobs for political allies and massive campaign contributions for the White House and Congress. Everyone wins . . . except the tens of millions who cannot afford medicine. While these companies have valid interests in recouping their investment and making profits on new drugs (which are expensive to develop), the secrecy and sweeping impact of the TPP deserves far greater attention in the media.
The Obama Administration is in Salt Lake City to push 11 other countries to agree to the changes on intellectual property rules. Of course, Obama’s self-described “most transparent” administration has kept the public out of the proceedings and much of the work has been in secret. Cloaked from the public eye, the Obama Administration has carried out the demands of the industry over the international need for lower priced drugs.
While the public is barred, companies like Walmart and Monsanto are allowed to participate. The former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson joined protests of the Administration’s “horrible betrayal of the American promise of liberty, of equality.” The Administration and its partners clearly picked Salt Lake City in winter as the least likely to generate protests, but still faced protesters in the street outside of the hotel.
In the meantime, the White House is touting the agreement to extend patent rights (and prices) for companies as “a model for future trade agreements.” It includes extending drug patent terms from 20 years to at least 25 years and would allow companies to patent new formulations of existing medicines. This is called “evergreening,” which involves small changes like a shift from a gel to a tablet to continue to control the sale and prices of a drug. It also has provisions to make it more difficult to market lower cost generic drugs until the long patent periods have run. It is a bonanza for drug companies and lobbyists. Public interest groups have denounced the effort but few people in Congress are willing to oppose the drug lobby.
Lobbying remains one of the most profitable areas for former members. Ironically, the pharmaceutical industry has been repeatedly denounced for the hiring of former members and staffers in what some view as a award for the passage of windfall legislation.
The hold of these companies on the White House and Congress is remarkable . . . as is the open revolving door of influence. For example, former Congressman Billy Tauzin, R-La., pushed the bill through the House over objections from members and public interest organizations. He then accepted a $2 million a year job as president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the main industry lobbying group. Medicare head Thomas Scully, who was accused of coercing employees to hide the true costs of the program, was given a job as a pharmaceutical lobbyist as were 14 congressional aides who worked on the passage of the bill. Twenty-five former members and high-ranking staffers returned to lobby for the industry with huge salaries — an example to others how to profiteer at the public expense.
With our current duopoly of power, there is little threat to this lobby which has deep hold of both parties. When confronted, the two parties simply return to the same blue state/red state rhetoric and portray the other side as worse. In fact, they are on the same side and the only people made worse are millions of Americans who are being bled financially to get access to needed drugs.