Understanding PhRMA

The Sunlight Foundation digs deep into the new White House health care proposal and how it may anger the powerful drug lobby, PhRMA.

Just last week, former Louisiana Senator Billy Tauzin resigned as head of PhRMA, the trade group representing the pharmaceutical industry. The group had worked closely with the White House to craft a health care bill that didn’t slam the drug companies.

Sunlight reports:

Throughout 2009, PhRMA and major pharmaceutical companies crafted a deal with the White House to limit cost cutting by the industry in exchange for the industry’s support, through over $100 million in television advertising, for health care reform…The White House’s new proposal contains deeper cost cuts than previously agreed to and contains regulations on the relationship between brand-name and generic drug companies that the industry opposes.

Fresh Air’s Terry Gross spoke with Sunlight Foundation writer Paul Blumenthal to clarify the connections between PhRMA and the administration:

Blumenthal says that the CEOs of pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and AstraZeneca attended a series of meetings at the White House throughout the spring and summer, and agreed to spend more than $150 million on ads touting a health care overhaul. That spending and the subsequent lack of progress on the bill, Blumenthal notes, may be why Tauzin resigned.

The Washington Post recently described Tauzin’s role at PhRMA as key:

Tauzin came under sharp criticism for taking the job at PhRMA shortly after helping push through a costly Medicare prescription drug package, which was a boon to drugmakers. Tauzin said he took the position in part because of the role that experimental drugs played in helping him survive a battle with intestinal cancer.

PhRMA, one of the largest health-care organizations in Washington, spent more than $26 million on lobbying last year and has contributed more than $200,000 to federal candidates, mostly Democrats, since 2007.

NPR’s Julie Rovner explains the changes the administration has made to its original proposal:

Sunlight Foundation also analyzed the construction of the first PhRMA health care deal with the administration. The Sunlight Foundation’s commitment to creating more openness in government and providing tools to the public for understanding government data has provided more information about health care reform and other recent initiatives than has ever been available. In an interview with PBS Newshour, Sunlight director Clay Johnson explained the need for Sunlight and similar projects:

Johnson says that feedback is crucial in creating a more transparent relationship between the government and the governed, calling on the American public to be more forgiving with the government in order to see progress. “[Allowing] bad data to exist allows feedback to exist, to correct the data,” he said. “[The public] needs to give government, in some cases, permission to fail.”]

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