Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Was PhRMA Fiddling While We Burned?

"While just about all retirees are covered, and nearly 90 percent of children have health insurance, workers now are at significantly higher risk of being uninsured than in the 1990s, the last time lawmakers attempted a healthcare overhaul, according to a study to be released today," reported AP (see "Health insurance woes hit workers. Premiums rising 6 to 8 times faster than wages have").

"The study for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that nearly 1 in 5 workers is uninsured, a statistically significant increase from fewer than 1 in 7 during the mid-1990s."

I came across this bit of information just as I hung up the phone with Billy Tauzin, president of PhRMA. Mr. Tauzin led a "roundtable" discussion on health reform. I, and several other bloggers, were invited to participate.

Towards the end of the conversation, we all got to talking about Hilary Clinton and the 1990s, which was the last time healthcare reform was a national issue. At that time, if my memory serves me, PhRMA and the drug industry were against the reforms proposed by the Clinton administration. Now, PhRMA and practically everyone else is in favor of "reform," as long as it is the kind of reform they want.

Leaving aside for a second what PhRMA wants, what I want to know is this: what was PhRMA doing between the time Hilary was rebuffed and Obama was elected to reform healthcare? Why didn't the industry push the Bush administration to get healthcare reform back on the agenda?

While more and more workers are unable to afford private insurance, Billy Tauzin still enjoys his government health insurance plan that he was allowed to keep after he left Congress to work for PhRMA. Mr. Tauzin, however, does not want all Americans to have access to government insurance but prefers government handouts that allow people to afford private insurance.

Sorry to make this personal, but that was exactly what one blogger participant was worried about -- how to deal with all the personalities that are "at the table" in this current round of negotiations about health reform. As Mr. Tauzin said, it's different this time because everyone has been invited into the tent. Mr. Tauzin closed the call with the hope that Republicans will not continue to stand outside the tent pissing but would come in and talk.

Hey, it could happen.

At least Mr. Tauzin invited bloggers into his tent, for which I have to give him credit. Hopefully, he'll invite me again.

For tweets made during PhRMA's Tauzin call with bloggers see: http://tinyurl.com/dzp9rq


  1. John: Thanks for participating on the call.

    I saw your tweets and this post and wanted to jot you a quick note to clarify a couple of points.

    Yes, as Billy Tauzin mentioned on the line, he carries health insurance.

    Like other current and former federal employees, as well as members of Congress, he’s covered by a private insurance plan coordinated by the federal government through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program page summarizing options lists scores of private plans from which federal employees can choose.

    And, to your larger point, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and our member companies have been quite busy helping the uninsured. For the past four years, we’ve sponsored the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), which has helped more than 5.7 million uninsured and struggling Americans access programs sponsored by PhRMA member companies and others that offer prescription medicines for free or nearly free.

    Our bright orange PPA buses have been to 2,500 cities in all 50 states, traveling 300,000 miles to help financially struggling patients. PhRMA member companies alone have given away prescription medicines worth $14 billion since 2005.

    Finally, the answer is yes. You’re certainly welcome back into our tent at any time. But, better yet, why not join us for a bus ride around America?

    Ken Johnson

  2. Ken,

    Thanks for your comment and for being a good sport.

    A bus ride across America sounds intriguing. Will PhRMA Intern be on board? Just kidding.

    On a serious note - I am a skeptic at heart and recently I have begun to doubt that this "initiative" will have any more success than the last one. That frustration was evident in my blog post.

    I look forward to continuing the discussion.

  3. John,

    Maybe I'm nuts, but I'm thinking that PhRMA is only one player in health care reform, with other players equally, if not more, influential than PhRMA like health plans and physician associations like the AMA and any number of specialty organizations. For disclosure, I voted for Obama, but I seem to recall that PhRMA was very instrumental in passing and implementing Medicare part D during the Bush administration. You can argue whether or not it goes far enough or whether the pricing is fair enough, but you can't argue that this wasn't a monumental reform squarely in the place in the healthcare system where PhRMA's interests lie. This occurred during the Bush administration.

    I wonder (and it is "wonder" since I'm not really an expert in overall healthcare policy) whether or not provider and health plan interests will be a bigger obstacle to broader reform than PhRMA or BIO.

    Also, by the way, as a self-employed industry professional, my family was universally denied health care coverage this year because of a pre-existing condition. My wife was sick with pregnancy which miraculously resulted in a healthy baby boy in August. Thank god since pregnancy is such a terrible disease. You can't make stuff like that up.

    Wait! Maybe I'm not an expert in overall healthcare policy, but unfortunately I am an EXPERT healthcare consumer.

    John Murray

  4. Isn't Mr. Tauzin the gentleman who was shown on the movie 'Sicko' as leaving government for a big payday for the pharma industry?
    I don't know if Michael Moore's portrayal was accurate - but it certainly seemed damaging.

  5. John,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Medicare Part D was a reform that provided help to seniors but (1) did NOT allow gov't to negotiate pricing and therefore did little to reign in healthcare costs and reform the system, and (2) was passed while taxes were lowered thus putting us more into debt than will social security.

    Yes, PhRMA is not the only player and I contend that all of them were fiddling while the consumer burned.

    And, if we are all REQUIRED to buy PRIVATE health insurance -- with gov't subsidies -- the insurance companies should not only offer the same rates to sick people as they do healthy people, but they should offer coverage to all people regardless of pre-existing conditions!

    While I'm at it, I also favor a government run insurance pool that competes with private insurers. On the one hand, PhRMA and insurers will say that gov't run plans are inefficient, yet on the other hand they don't want to compete with gov't plans. Why shouldn't the marketplace decide? having a gov't plan offers consumers MORE choices, nit less.

  6. Kenny,

    Yes, almost before the ink dried on the Medicare part D bill, Tauzin left Congress to become president of PhRMA.


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