Our own Rep. Peter Welch has introduced a bill to repeal a $500 million provision of the recently passed “fiscal cliff” bill characterized by The New York Times as a “gift.”
The bill Rep. Welch is sponsoring involves a complicated bit of legislative legerdemain buried deep in an essentially unrelated bill that went mostly unread before it was approved. But the gist is that Sens. Baucus (D-Montana), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah, Big Pharma branch), and Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader) all strongly supported a provision inserted in the fiscal cliff bill that granted an additional two-year delay in implementing a Medicare payment reform for kidney dialysis, through 2016. The reform would “bundle” payment for dialysis and the drugs prescribed to kidney patients, instead of allowing doctors and dialysis centers to bill separately for the drugs, a set up, The NYT says tended to result in overprescribing. The delay in the billing and payment reform is worth $500 million over the two-year span.
While several companies make drugs involved in dialysis treatment, the biotech company that arguably stood to gain the most – and has 74 lobbyists on Capitol Hill and was the only company pushing for the delay – was Amgen. Amgen pled guilty just a few weeks ago to illegally marketing an anti-anemia drug, and was fined $762 million in criminal and civil penalties.
It is notable that among these three supporters of the billing reform delay, several current and former members of their staffs have close ties to Amgen, as The NYT documents: Orrin Hatch’s top aide was a healthcare policy analyst for Amgen; Baucus and McConnell were likely lobbied by their former chiefs of staff, who now work for Amgen. Further, all three Senators received substantial campaign contributions from Amgen employees and PACs, ranging from almost $60k to over $70k each since 2007.
MoveOn.org has taken notice, via a petition supporting Rep. Welch’s bill to repeal the delay in implementing the Medicare payment reform, a.k.a, Amgen’s “gift.”
From Rep. Welch’s press release:
“This eleventh-hour, backroom deal confirms the American public’s worst suspicions of how Congress operates,” Welch said. “As the nation’s economy teetered on the edge of a Congressional-created fiscal cliff, lobbyists for a private, for-profit company seized an opportunity to feed at the public trough. Without scrutiny or debate, the American taxpayer was stuck with the $500 million tab. This special interest provision should have stood on its own merits with an up or down vote. It’s no wonder cockroaches and root canals are more popular than Congress.
Thanks, Peter. Good work. Given that two of those three Senators are among the “fiscal hawks” demanding spending cuts (except for their friends and donors) “or else,” it’s clear that your hypocrisy detector is still functioning well, and that you have the spine to do something about it.