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Tony Coelho Lobbies for Drug Industry Self Regulation

Tony CoelhoThe New York Times has a revealing article about the health industry’s behind the scenes lobbying to undercut the same regulations they claim to support. For example, drug manufacturers have hired former Democratic Congressman, Tony Coelho to help obfuscate the issues and avoid independent evaluations of drug effectiveness.

One proposed reform in the House bill is to create an independent medical advisory group, overseen by government, to study the effectiveness of various drugs and treatments. Sounds like a perfectly sensible thing to do, especially if (per Census Bureau) nearly 30 percent (and growing) of the country gets its health care under plans primarily or partly paid for by tax payer monies.

The review board proposal would help doctors and hospitals by giving them independent, peer-reviewed information on what works or not and how well. The review boards wouldn’t ban drugs that don’t work or are dangerous; that’s the FDA’s job.

Nor do the provisions require that government funding be conditional on favorable evaluations, although having government funds focused more on treatments that work and less on those that don’t or have serious side effects — think Abbott Lab’s HUMIRA — would seem a logical use for the information.

But the industry didn’t hire Tony Coelho to be logical; they hired him to misrepresent the issue and gut the provision. Notice how Coelho misrepresents the issue:

“I don’t want some government folks making a decision because of a cookie-cutter approach to health care saying, ‘We will only approve the three most common drugs,’ so then my drugs are not approved, and I am going to have seizures,” said Mr. Coelho, the chairman of an industry-backed group called the Partnership to Improve Patient Care. “And it is going to cost people a lot more money because I am going to be in an emergency room.”

Nothing in the bills says the review panel would "only approve the three most common drugs." They’d only review and report on what works, what doesn’t, and how well, something we’d all like to know whether we’re taking the drugs of helping to pay for them.

And Coelho’s hinting further that the review panel would ban the drugs he needs to keep from having seizures. This ridiculously false claim is the equivalent of Sarah Palin lying that the government is planning "death panels."

Near the article’s end we get to what the drug industry really wants:

Like the administration, the coalition supports comparing the effectiveness of treatments, Mr. Coelho said. But the coalition, he said, wants the research overseen led by an independent board with industry and patient representatives. Current House health care legislation would keep the research under government oversight, without specifying whether the federal government or other insurers might use its findings for payment decisions.

Ah, so it’s the common industry plea: "trust us to regulate ourselves; let us dominate the review boards." That would be this industry (h/t Rayne), and companies like this.

Now for the really depressing news. Democrats who should know better are falling for Coelho’s sleight of hand and self-regulation nonsense:

In May, he joined a conference call with three Democratic lawmakers who were introducing legislation for the kind of independent review his group proposed. A similar amendment to the House’s health care bills is now pending, and the Senate Finance Committee has incorporated the same model in its draft legislation as well.

Representative Kurt Schrader, an Oregon Democrat who was on the conference call, said Mr. Coelho’s medical history lent a special credibility to the cause. “It helps him say to patients and consumers that this is about them,” Mr. Schrader said, “and not about advocating the interest of any one provider or industry.”

So heads up, Oregon and elsewhere. You might want to call your local Congress critter and straighten them out on how well you think America’s drug manufacturers can be trusted to regulate themselves, while getting government’s stamp of approval on their self evaluations. But first check out who’s contributing to their campaigns.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley