On ‘Big Pharma’ lobbying clout in TN

A proposal to require that pharmaceutical companies notify state officials when they increase the cost of chemotherapy medication by more than 10 percent ran into opposition in a House committee, triggering an outburst against drug company lobbyists from Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, reports the Memphis Daily News.

The proposal came in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, to a bill (HB1059) sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, when it came up in the House Insurance and Banking Committee. The measure, as filed, would prohibit an insurance provider from requiring a higher co-payment for oral anticancer medication than for injected chemotherapy medication.

“What chapped me is these damn lobbyists, these pharmaceutical people and the people that think they run this building – and nobody’s voted for them – guaranteeing if you do this and put an amendment on it they’re going to kill the damn bill. That’s what I don’t like,” Towns says.

… “Nobody’s voted for them sapsuckers, and they don’t have the power, nor should they have the power unless these jokers (lawmakers) acquiesce,” Towns says. “So my concern was that they need to have some courage and to stand up and they need to get this health care cost in terms of medicine and pharmaceuticals under control, because there’s greed, there’s been greed and there will continue to be greed if there ain’t no courage by these members.”

… Beck.. says he was surprised by the blowback he received … “It was a reporting transparency amendment, and all of a sudden I’m bombarded by big PhRMA’s lobbyists saying if you push this through it will kill the bill. We will kill the bill.”

Ultimately, he withdrew the (amendment) after Lamberth told him it would lead to the bill’s demise… Sandwiching a pharmaceutical reporting requirement into the equation with insurers and patients appears to be an effort to defeat the bill, (Lamberth) says.

… PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, hasn’t taken a formal position on the bill, according to spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll. The organization supports the concept of “oral parity” to make sure patients get the best treatment possible, she says.

“But certainly we would have concerns about an amendment that creates additional financial reporting requirements that don’t actually help address the problem the clients are facing,” Carroll says.

Putting such a burden on pharmaceutical companies could “stunt innovation” and wind up harming patients without dealing with problems they face at the pharmacy, “which is a conversation we do want to have,” Carroll says.

Note: PHRMA has just two lobbyists registered this year, one an Atlanta-based regional lobbyist for the group, the other veteran Tennessee contract lobbyist Jack Fosbinder. In the PHRMA disclosures filed for 2016, it reported between $50,000 and $100,000 in payments to lobbyists. It might be noted, however, that PHRMA often works with lobbyists for various drug manufacturers and other organizations tied to the industry.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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