Drugging the system with money

When do well-meaning non-profits transform from community advocates to mercenary foot soldiers? When do corporate contributions to a non-profit organization cross the line from philanthropy to avarice? These questions are playing out in real-time through a bill in the Nevada Legislature that would track and regulate prices on diabetes medicine—Senate Bill 265, from Clark County Senator Yvanna Cancela.

It’s not as if Nevadans aren’t used to this kind of behavior from the corporate sector, eager to change their foes into friends. The mining industry has long provided generous gifts to schools, the arts and universities to show what good citizens they are and to inoculate themselves from paying more in taxes for the privilege of taking our gold. Many of Nevada’s premier environmental groups have accepted financing from the very industry they are supposed to be watchdogging, leading to distasteful perceptions that a non-profit is for sale.

Now we have a bill that is being touted as model legislation, taking the pharmaceutical industry to task for raising prices on diabetes medication almost 400 percent from 2006 to 2013. S.B. 265 offers direct financial relief to patients coping with soaring prices for the drugs their lives literally depend upon, including refunds when prices spike. Patients are increasingly battling their own insurance providers when they balk at paying exorbitant prices for specific types of insulin. While insurers and drug makers blame each other for the problem, patients are left to engage in desperate and dangerous searches for these drugs in the black market or take smaller doses than recommended, risking the consequences.

S.B. 265 requires drug manufacturers to account for the actual costs associated with creating the drugs, including marketing expenses. The legislation requires that drug sales representatives become licensed in Nevada and asks non-profit patient advocacy groups to disclose contributions from manufacturers of prescription drugs, making it easier to evaluate who might really be pushing an agenda.

According to an article in Tonic, a New England Journal of Medicine study found 83 percent of 104 patient advocacy organizations that were reviewed received some of their funding from pharmaceutical companies, creating at least a perception of a conflict of interest. Since many of these public health organizations have submitted testimony against Cancela’s bill that is remarkably similar to the industry’s talking points, it is reasonable to assume that their fiscal interests are guiding their testimony against a bill that would save their constituents’ money and, in some cases, their very lives.

It’s worth noting that pharmaceuticals are one of the most profitable industries in America with incredible political clout. They are no strangers to the technique of astro-turfing either, a tactic designed to showcase pseudo support by hiding behind well-known and respected organizations. Don’t forget the debacle they created in 2003 when they commandeered the AARP into lobbying for a specific clause forbidding the Federal government from negotiating prices when Medicare Part D was implemented.

Drug companies also have cozy relationships with many doctors, cultivating them through financial incentives such as the “gift” of becoming a paid lecturer at a seminar in a popular vacation destination. They know what they’re doing, and they have the money to keep doing it thanks to the ridiculously high prices Americans pay for drugs.

The bill is still alive in the Nevada Legislature thanks to a waiver granted by the Democratic leadership. However, the pharmaceutical industry has upped its lobbyist corps dramatically with nearly 70 registered lobbyists now doing its bidding, including a number of former legislators.

If you’re tired of paying more for prescription drugs than any other country in the world, let your legislator know you support S.B. 265. We can’t fix everything about health care, but S.B. 265 is an excellent place to start.